Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine that can affect children, teenagers, and adults. On an X-ray, the spine of an individual with scoliosis looks more like the letters “S” or “C” rather than a straight line. There is no consensus among scientists as to the cause of scoliosis, but there is definite agreement that it is more often diagnosed in females and that there seems to be a genetic component, meaning that you may be more likely to have scoliosis if others in your family are also affected.
Most cases of scoliosis are classified as “idiopathic scoliosis”–which simply means that the cause is unknown. Idiopathic scoliosis occurs primarily in adolescents. Adult scoliosis may represent the progression of a condition that began in childhood and was not treated or even diagnosed while the individual was still developing. The condition may have progressed without proper treatment during adolescence. In addition, adult scoliosis can be caused by degenerative changes in the spine, that is disk degeneration and arthritis that occurs with aging. Another type of scoliosis, referred to as neuromuscular scoliosis, affects children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and muscular dystrophy. Curvature of the spine in neuromuscular scoliosis is the result of abnormal muscular forces placed on the spine as a result of the underlying condition.
It is important to heed the warning signs of potential scoliosis development. If left untreated, scoliosis can progress and lead to deformity and back pain. When scoliosis is very severe, it can even have a negative effect on the heart and lungs.
Scoliosis, especially in children, can go largely unnoticed since it is rarely painful. Parents should be observant of the following warning signs of scoliosis. These signs usually start to appear at around the age of 10 years old:
- A distinct leaning to one side.
- A prominence or “hump” in the upper or lower back when the child leans over.
- Shoulders that do not appear level when the child is standing straight up.
- Protruding, asymmetric shoulder blades.
- Noticeably uneven waist line.
- An elevated hip on one side.