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Family & Child Health > Related Conditions > Scoliosis
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(Spine Curvature · Spinal Curvature)

In this condition factsheet:

The Facts on Scoliosis

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. The spine bends to one side of the body, causing the torso to compress on that side. The ribs on that side will be closer together while the ribs of the other side will be farther apart. Scoliosis also involves a rotation of the spine, in which the individual vertebrae bones twist around the long axis of the spine.

It's estimated that 2% to 4% of all children ages 10 to 16 have detectable scoliosis. An equal number of boys and girls develop scoliosis. When boys are affected, it usually develops in early childhood.

Most people with scoliosis have barely noticeable curvatures; however, girls are more likely to develop scoliosis bad enough to need treatment.

Causes of Scoliosis

Although the exact cause of scoliosis is unknown, genetics is believed to play a role, as it often runs in families. When scoliosis develops later in childhood, there's usually no cause found in over 80% of cases – the rest can be due to conditions such as polio, cerebral palsy, juvenile osteoporosis, or other disease. This condition is also associated with poor posture; in fact, scoliosis is the cause of poor posture in many cases.

Adults may develop functional scoliosis in the presence of severe muscle spasm caused by muscle strain, other injury, or degeneration of the spine. In the case of muscle spasms or strains, scoliosis resolves with treatment of the underlying problem.

Symptoms and Complications of Scoliosis

Although the spine's curvature is unnaturally bent in individuals with scoliosis, there are usually no symptoms. Some people may experience vague muscle back pain, stiffness, or fatigue. Most curves are convex to the right in the upper back and to the left in the lower back, so that the right shoulder is higher than the left one. One hip may also be higher than the other. A parent or friend may notice that the spine appears curved, and the ribs on one side of the body will appear closer together compared to the other side.

Developing scoliosis may go undetected for years until a child reaches adolescence. As the child enters puberty, and is growing more quickly, the degree of spinal bending can dramatically increase and become very noticeable.

There are different degrees of scoliosis. Very mild scoliosis usually doesn't require any treatment other than regular follow-up with a doctor since it generally doesn't cause any symptoms. For those with more severe scoliosis, back muscle fatigue and pain may be felt during prolonged periods of standing or sitting.

In some people, the condition can progress and worsen with time. The abnormal compression of the ribs on one side of the body can put pressure on vital organs and can cause a change in function of the heart and lungs if left untreated.



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