About Scoliosis

Scoliosis, or abnormal curving of the spine, affects about 3% of people. Mild cases may not affect daily living. But severe cases can be painful and limit normal activity.

Definition

The curves in our spine help the upper body maintain proper balance and alignment. However, when there are abnormal side-to-side curves in the spinal column, we refer to this as scoliosis.

Causes

There are many causes of scoliosis, including congenital spine deformities (those present at birth, either inherited or caused by the environment), genetic conditions, neuromuscular problems, and limb length inequality. Other causes for scoliosis include cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, and tumours. More than 80% of scoliosis cases, however, have no known cause.

Symptoms

Symptoms for scoliosis will vary with each individual. However, some symptoms may include the following:

  • Shoulders at different heights—one shoulder blade more prominent than the other
  • Head not centred directly above the pelvis
  • Appearance of a raised, prominent hip
  • Rib cages at different heights
  • Uneven waist
  • Changes in look or texture of skin overlying the spine
  • Leaning of entire body to one side
  • Rib prominence when bent over

Diagnosis

A doctor may diagnose scoliosis with a diagnostic exam such as an x-ray, spinal radiograph, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the spine. The curvature of the spine is then measured and expressed in terms of degrees. Generally, a curve is considered significant if it is greater than 25 to 30 degrees. Curves exceeding 45 to 50 degrees are considered more severe.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 27 Sep 2010

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