Scoliosis is the most common spinal deformity and affects three percent of the U.S. population. While it is prevalent, there are still many misconceptions about scoliosis and what causes it. Below are answers to some questions you may have about the condition.
What are the different types of scoliosis?
There are three different types of scoliosis: idiopathic, congenital and neuromuscular.
Most scoliosis cases are idiopathic, which means there is no known cause. Those with congenital scoliosis are born with the condition, and it develops as the spine forms in the womb. This happens due to one or more vertebra developing abnormally or not separating. Neuromuscular scoliosis can be the result of a neuromuscular condition, such as muscular dystrophy, Myelodysplasia, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and other disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and muscular system. With these kinds of conditions, weakened or imbalanced nerves and muscles are unable to maintain proper alignment of the spine.
Can you prevent scoliosis?
No, there is nothing you can do to prevent scoliosis as it most likely develops because of genetics. At this time, much of the specific causes of the most common form of scoliosis, idiopathic scoliosis, are not fully understood. Research suggests that there is no way to prevent the condition in someone predisposed.
What causes scoliosis?
Between 80 and 85 percent of scoliosis cases have undetermined causes, and are therefore deemed idiopathic. The remaining percentage of cases may be caused by congenital abnormalities and genetic conditions, neurological conditions or disorders, and muscular diseases.
Contrary to common misconception, scoliosis is not caused from carrying heavy items (such as backpacks), poor posture, calcium deficiency, sports activities or difference in leg length.
What are some common symptoms?
- Tilted, uneven shoulders
- Protruding shoulder blade
- Prominence of the ribs on one side
- Uneven waistline
- One hip higher than the other
- Leaning posture
- Symptoms associated with idiopathic and congenital, as well as:
- Tilted pelvis
- Poor balance and coordination
- Difficulty sitting, which may require use of hands and arms for support
- Pressure sores from imbalance
- Hygiene challenges
Are only children affected?
While scoliosis is prominent in children and adolescents, it can be identified in adults, even those over the age of 60. It is also important to note that with age, symptoms can worsen.
Does the condition change with age?
In some instances in which the curvature is not severe, individuals have seen improvement without treatment. When very slight curves are present in children, treatment may not be recommended. When large curves are left untreated at a young age, they may become worse with time.
How is scoliosis treated?
Bracing and surgery are the two treatment options for scoliosis. Bracing, for those with less severe spine curvatures, is a common treatment recommendation as it helps prevent the spine curvature from worsening. Surgery may be recommended for those with a curvature greater than 50 degrees. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, scoliosis cases with less than 30-degree curvature tend to stay the same, and cases with 50-degree curvature or greater tend to worsen with age, by about one degree per year. With instances that may need surgery, spinal fusion is commonly performed. This type of surgery has a high success rate in scoliosis patients in terms of preventing further curvature and straightening the spine. Learn more about the procedure here.
For more information on surgical treatment specific to children with congenital scoliosis, click here.
Are other health issues associated with scoliosis?
Congenital scoliosis may lead to heart and kidney issues. Neuromuscular scoliosis may lead to thoracic insufficiency syndrome, and some patients develop pressure sores because of their pelvic tilt and imbalance.