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The Basics of Scoliosis

The Basics of Scoliosis

Scoliosis is not a disease, but a term used to describe an abnormal, sideways curvature of the spine. While a typical spine looks straight from the back, a spine with scoliosis curves like the letter C, a backwards letter C or the letter S.

Although scoliosis is a fairly common condition, many don't know much about it. We've compiled a few basic facts you should know about scoliosis if you're concerned you, or a loved one, might have the condition.

Idiopathic Scoliosis

The most common form of scoliosis is idiopathic scoliosis, which occurs in approximately two percent of the population. Idiopathic means a condition or disease with no known cause. This type of scoliosis is the most frequent cause of scoliosis in children, while degenerative scoliosis is most common in adults. It rarely causes pain, but should be closely monitored by a professional once it is detected so the curve doesn't progress. Idiopathic scoliosis can be treated by observation, back braces and scoliosis surgery.

Degenerative Scoliosis

Degenerative, or adult onset scoliosis, describes a side-to-side curvature of the spine caused by the degeneration of facet joints. This condition usually occurs in people over 65. The scoliosis curve, typically in a C shape, is found in the lumbar spine. As joints deteriorate, it places pressure on a straight spine and causes it to curve to one side. Patients may experience stiffness and pain in the mid to lower back and/or pain, numbness or weakness in the legs and feet. Adult scoliosis can be treated with spinal decompression surgery in conjunction with a spinal fusion.

Types of Spinal Curves

  • Dextroscoliosis: The spine curves to right and usually occurs in the thoracic spine. This is the most common type of curve and it can occur on its own, forming a C shape, or with another curve bending the opposite way to form an S.
  • Levoscoliosis: This describes a spinal curve that veers to the left. It is common in the lumbar spine, but the rare occurrence of levoscoliosis in the thoracic spine indicates a higher probability that scoliosis may be secondary to a spinal cord tumor.

Locations of Spinal Curves

  • Thoracic scoliosis: Curvature in the middle of the spine. This is the most common location for spinal curvature.
  • Lumbar scoliosis: Curvature in the lower portion of the spine.
  • Thoracolumbar scoliosis: Curvature that includes vertebrae in both the lower thoracic portion and upper lumbar section of the spine.

Signs of Scoliosis

Without a spinal X-ray there other common physical symptoms that indicate scoliosis, including the Adam's Forward Bend Test. The individual will bend from the waist as if touching the toes and the medical professional looks for one or more of the following signs:

  • One shoulder is higher than the other
  • One shoulder blade sticks out more
  • One side of the rib cage is higher
  • One hip appears higher or more prominent
  • The waist is uneven
  • The body tilts to one side
  • One leg appears shorter than the other