What Is Scoliosis? - Definition, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Scoliosis is a condition where the spine is curved rather than straight. Many people suffer from mild to severe scoliosis. Read this lesson to find out what causes it, what the symptoms are, and how to treat it.

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a medical condition where the spine is curved to one side of the body, rather than straight. A doctor can usually make an initial diagnosis during a routine exam, where he or she will feel the path of your spine. In fact, 2-3% of people have been diagnosed with scoliosis by the age of 16, and girls are more likely to have it than boys.

Scoliosis is a condition where the spine laterally curves instead of growing straight.

Causes of Scoliosis

So what causes scoliosis? Why might the spine not grow straight like it's supposed to? There are actually a number of causes, so let's go through them.

1. The curvature could be caused a congenital, or birth-related, defect. The bones may simply not have grown and developed correctly.

2. Other medical conditions affecting the nerves or muscles could affect the spine. Typically, cases of neuromuscular scoliosis are due to spina bifida or cerebral palsy and can result in complete paralysis.

3. An injury, previous surgery, or osteoporosis can cause the spine to change shape. This is known as degenerative scoliosis.

4.The most common form of scoliosis is idiopathic scoliosis. Unfortunately, in this case, there is no obvious cause. The condition may be inherited, but that theory is still being tested.

Scoliosis Symptoms

Initial symptoms that may signal scoliosis include slumped or uneven shoulders, one very visible shoulder blade, an uneven waist, or even an overall slight lean to one side. In some cases, one leg may appear longer than the other, or one hip will appear higher than the other. After the initial exam, x-rays may be necessary to fully assess the severity of the condition. Many cases are minor enough to not require extreme treatment measures, and back pain is usually not a symptom of scoliosis.

Treatment Options

There are two primary treatment options for more severe cases of scoliosis. The first is wearing a brace. This is the first treatment for cases where the patient's spine is curved 25-40%, and it works best when the patient is still growing. The brace can help guide the spine to straighten out as it grows, instead of continuing to curve. If the brace is removed before the spine is done growing, it is likely that the spine will resume its curved positioning.

A series of braces can be used to correct mild cases of scoliosis.
scoliosis brace

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