Scoliosis is a three-dimensional deformity of the spine that causes it to twist and curve sideways and usually becomes apparent after about age 7. Almost no one has a perfectly straight spine. A spinal curve of 10 degrees or more is considered scoliosis.
The word scoliosis (say: sko-lee-oh-sis) comes from a Greek word meaning crooked. If you have scoliosis, you’re not alone.
About 3 out of every 100 people have some form of scoliosis, though for many people it’s not much of a problem. Scoliosis can affect about 2% of females and 0.5% of males.
In most cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown (idiopathic). This type of scoliosis is described based on the age when scoliosis develops. If the person is less than 3 years old, it is called infantile idiopathic scoliosis. Scoliosis that develops between 3 and 10 years of age is called juvenile idiopathic scoliosis, and people that are over 10 years old have adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. More than 80% of people with scoliosis have idiopathic scoliosis, and the majority of those are adolescent girls.
No one knows what causes the most common type of scoliosis called idiopathic (say: ih-dee-uh-pa-thik) scoliosis. (Idiopathic is a fancy word for unknown cause.) Doctors do know that scoliosis can run in families. So if a parent, sister, or brother had scoliosis, you might have it, too.
Sometimes scoliosis will be easily noticeable. A curved spine can cause someone’s body to tilt to the left or right.
If a doctor says you have scoliosis, then the doctor and your parent can talk about whether treatment is necessary, and then talk to you about what happens next.
If you do need treatment, you’ll go to a special doctor called an orthopedist (say: or-tho-pee-dist), or orthopedic surgeon, who knows a lot about bones and how to treat scoliosis. The orthopedist will probably start by figuring out how severe your spine’s curve is. To do this, an orthopedist looks at X-rays and measures the spine’s curve in degrees, like you measure angles in math class.
Treatment of scoliosis is based on the severity of the curve and the chances of the curve getting worse. Certain types of scoliosis have a greater chance of getting worse, so the type of scoliosis also helps to determine the proper treatment. There are three main categories of treatment: observation, bracing, and surgery.
One thing to remember is that scoliosis is the result of genetic AND environmental factors that combine to develop into the condition. So, what are the environmental factors that should be avoided? Well, no one knows for sure at this time but it is a safe bet that significant spinal trauma should be avoided (duh, right?), but also activities that cause excessive compression on the spine (heavy weight lifting, trampolines, horseback riding) or activities that cause repetitive compressive shocks to the spine (like those produced by running on a hard surface for example).
Common Myths About Scoliosis:
Myth: “Scoliosis is preventable.”
Truth: Scoliosis is not a preventable condition. Researchers have yet to discover the cause of the most common type of scoliosis (idiopathic scoliosis). But they do know that vitamins, diet, exercise or other steps will not protect against the condition. It tends to run in families.