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Meet the faces of Riverside
Meet the faces of Riverside Medical Center
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Scoliosis

What is scoliosis?

Illustration of a normal spinal column

A normal spine, when viewed from behind, appears straight. However, a spine affected by scoliosis shows evidence of a lateral, or side-to-side curvature, with the spine looking 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.

Scoliosis is a type of spinal deformity and shouldn't be confused with poor posture.

Spinal curvature from scoliosis may occur on the right or left side of the spine, or on both sides in different sections. Both the thoracic (mid) and lumbar (lower) spine may be affected by scoliosis.

What causes scoliosis?

Illustration demonstrating thoracic and lumbar scoliosis

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 according to their cause, including the following:

What are the symptoms of scoliosis?

The following are the most common symptoms of scoliosis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Back pain, leg pain, and changes in bowel and bladder habits aren't commonly associated with idiopathic scoliosis. A person experiencing these types of symptoms requires immediate further medical evaluation by a doctor.

The symptoms of scoliosis may resemble other spinal conditions or deformities, or may be a result of an injury or infection. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is scoliosis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, X-rays (a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of bones on to film) 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.

The following other diagnostic procedures may be performed for nonidiopathic curvatures, atypical curve patterns, or congenital scoliosis:

Early detection of scoliosis is most important for successful treatment.

How is scoliosis treated?

Specific treatment of scoliosis will be determined by your doctor based on:

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

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, there's no scientific evidence to show that other methods for treating scoliosis (for example, chiropractic manipulation, electrical stimulation, nutritional supplementation, and exercise) prevent the progression of the disease.