A normal spine will appear straight when viewed from behind – Scoliosis is a condition that causes a 3-dimensional shift in the spine, most notably causing a curvature to one side or the other.
Scoliosis, especially in the early stages, can be hard to spot – scoliosis has typically progressed for some time before there are visual signs – however, once signs have appeared:
- From the back, the spine may have a C or S shape curve rather than that of a straight line, this can make the waistlines uneven or one shoulder lower than the other.
- From the side view, the normal spinal curves are often straightened, which makes the mid-back appear flat. Shoulder blades may be prominent.
- While looking from the head down to the feet, there is a rotation or twist which can cause ribs or one side of the lower back to appear humped or more prominent.
Scoliosis is typically divided into two main categories – adult, and childhood scoliosis. Adult scoliosis is caused either by the degeneration of spinal disks with age or as a result of childhood scoliosis which was not treated. Childhood scoliosis (affecting infants through to young adults) has several known causes, but in 80% of cases, the exact cause is unknown. This is termed “Idiopathic” scoliosis. The remaining 20% of cases are typically caused by congenital or genetic conditions, spinal malformations, underlying neuromuscular conditions, metabolic conditions or trauma.
Idiopathic scoliosis in children is typically classified according to the age that it is diagnosed. It is most common in adolescents (over 10 years) but also occurs in infants (under 3 years) and juvenile’s (3-10 years).
Approximately 3-4% of children are affected by scoliosis, that’s about one in each class at school. In adults over the age of 50, this figure increases to 30-40%.
The earlier scoliosis is detected, the more effective a treatment and management plan will be. This helps reduce the risk of progression and the potential need for surgery. If scoliosis specific exercise and/or bracing are used early enough in the development of scoliosis, curve progression can be stopped, and surgery avoided. In many cases, near complete correction of the curve is possible.
Less frequently, scoliosis can at times be a sign of congenital spinal malformations, underlying neuromuscular conditions, metabolic conditions, traumas or significant pathologies.