Scoliosis

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis means an abnormal lateral (sideways) curvature of the spine. Although this may occur as a result of diseases affecting the bones and muscles around the spine, in 90 per cent of cases there is no obvious cause. However, the condition does seem to run in families.

Signs and symptoms of scoliosis

The problem is usually noticed in adolescence when children grow rapidly. Equal numbers of boys and girls will have a small degree of scoliosis but progression of the curvature is 8 to 10 times more common in girls.

Often the curvature of the spine is not noticed as the affected person will ‘compensate’ by the way they stand, often with one shoulder higher than the other. It is best seen by getting the affected child to bend forward with legs straight. If one side of the back seems higher than the other, scoliosis may be present.

Your doctor may order an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis and assess the severity of the scoliosis.

Fortunately, in most cases, the curvature does not get any worse as the child grows and they should not have any problems in adult life. Sometimes, however, the curve in the spine gets greater as the spine gets longer with growth. Unsightly and sometimes painful deformities, which interfere with normal activities, can be the result if nothing is done.

Scoliosis treatment

Most children with scoliosis only require observation by their doctor, with periodic physical examinations and X-rays. If treatment is necessary it may consist of braces (orthoses) which are fitted to the individual child in an attempt to control and restrict the amount of curvature during the growth stage so that there is only a minor problem in adulthood. Needless to say, teenagers needing to wear orthoses need a great deal of encouragement and support.

In more severe cases, surgery to the spine may be necessary. Modern techniques in bracing and surgery now mean that the outlook is excellent for the 2 or 3 out of every 1000 adolescents needing treatment.

Last Reviewed: 19 December 2012
Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.

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References

1. Scoliosis Australia. About scoliosis. http://www.scoliosis-australia.org/pdfs/about_scoliosis.pdf (accessed Feb 2013).
2. Mayo Clinic. Scoliosis. Last updated 3 Feb 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/scoliosis/DS00194 (accessed Feb 2013).
Dr Michael Jones

Dr Michael Jones

Medical Editor, Your Doctor.