What do I need to know about scoliosis? 2017-01-28T09:35:32-05:00

Dr. Noojan Kazemi, Neurosurgeon

Scoliosis is a type of spinal deformity in which the spine shows evidence of a lateral, or side-to-side curvature, that looks like an “S” or “C” and a rotation of the back bones (vertebrae), giving the appearance that the person is leaning to one side. According to the Scoliosis Research Society, scoliosis is defined as a curvature of the spine measuring 10 degrees or greater.

In more than 80% of cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown — a condition called idiopathic scoliosis. In other cases, scoliosis may develop as a result of degeneration of the spinal discs, as seen with arthritis, osteoporosis, or as a hereditary condition that tends to run in families. The abnormal curves of the spine are classified based on their cause:

  • Nonstructural scoliosis (also called functional scoliosis). In this condition, a structurally normal spine appears curved due to one or more underlying conditions (for example, difference in leg length or an inflammatory condition). This type of scoliosis is generally temporary and is often relieved when the underlying condition is treated.
  • Structural scoliosis. The possible causes of structural scoliosis are numerous, including:
  • Of unknown origin (idiopathic structural scoliosis)
  • Disease (for example, neuromuscular, metabolic, connective tissue, or rheumatoid disease)
  • Birth defect
  • Injury
  • Infection
  • Abnormal growth

Other Types of Scoliosis

While adolescent scoliosis is the most common, other common types of scoliosis include:

  • Congenital scoliosis, which is present in infants
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis, which is the results of neuromuscular conditions
  • Degenerative scoliosis, which occurs later in life

Scoliosis Rarely Causes Back Pain

It is important to note that idiopathic scoliosis results in spinal deformity, but is not typically a cause of back pain. Of course, people with scoliosis can develop back pain, just as most of the adult population can develop back pain. However, it has never been found that people with idiopathic scoliosis are any more likely to develop back pain than the rest of the population.

How is scoliosis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, X-rays are the primary diagnostic tool for scoliosis. In establishing a diagnosis of scoliosis, the doctor measures the degree of spinal curvature on the X-ray. Early detection of scoliosis is most important for successful treatment.

How is scoliosis treated?

Specific treatment of scoliosis will be determined by your doctorbased on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • The underlying cause of the scoliosis
  • Extent of the condition
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition

The goal of treatment is to stop the progression of the curve and prevent deformity. Treatment may include:

  • Observation and repeated examinations. Observation and repeated examinations may be necessary to determine if the spine is continuing to curve, and are used when a person has a curve less than 25 degrees and is still growing.
  • Bracing. Bracing may be used when the curve measures more than 25 degrees to 30 degrees on an X-ray, but skeletal growth remains. It may also be necessary if a person is growing and has a curve between 20 degrees and 29 degrees that isn’t improving. The type of brace and the amount of time spent in the brace will depend on the severity of the condition.
  • Surgery. Surgery may be recommended when the curve measures 45 degrees or more on an X-ray and bracing isn’t successful in slowing down the progression of the curve when a person is still growing.

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