What Is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine that can cause pain and deformities in the back. It is a side-to-side curvature of the spine that can develop in adults when their facet joints and discs begin to deteriorate. When these joints deteriorate, the vertebrae can tilt and begin to shift to one side.

Scoliosis is when the spine curves sideways as the result of a twisting of the vertebrae. Spinal curvature from scoliosis may happen on one side of the spine or on both sides in different places. Both the thoracic (middle of the back) and lumbar (lower back) spine may be affected by scoliosis.

Depending on where the curvature is, scoliosis makes the spine look like the letter C or S. This curvature makes it look like you are leaning to one side.

Scoliosis is determined when the curvature of the spine measures 10 degrees or greater on an X-ray.

Types of Scoliosis

Scoliosis is generally associated with children, but adults can have it, too. This typically happens when scoliosis is not detected during childhood or the disease progresses aggressively.

In more than 80% of cases patients are idiopathic, meaning they don’t have a known cause. Idiopathic scoliosis is broken down by age group:

  • Infant: develops from 0 to 3 years
  • Juvenile: develops from 4 to10 years
  • Adolescent: develops from 11 to 18 years. This is the most common type of scoliosis, occurring just at the growth spurt of puberty
  • Adult: develops from 18+ years and is usually a progression of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis

Below are a few different types of scoliosis:

Congenital is rare and is the result of an abnormality of the development of the vertebrae.

Neuromuscular develops along with another neurological or muscular disease such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.

Syndromic scoliosis develops as part of an underlying syndrome or disorder.

Degenerative scoliosis is most common in patients age 65 years or older and occurs as a result of degeneration. This type of scoliosis is most common in the lumbar spine (lower part of the back). Once the underlying problem is fixed, the curve will usually go away.

Functional scoliosis occurs when there is a problem with another part of the body that is making the spine appear curved, even though structurally it is normal.

The curvature of the spine due to scoliosis is classified into two types: structural and non-structural curves:

  • Non-structural Curves: the curve is temporary and the structure of the spine itself is normal. In these cases, the doctor can correct the cause and fix the scoliosis.
  • Structural Curve: the spine is fixed into its curve because of a disease, injury, infection, birth defect, or spinal degeneration. In this case, the curvature of the spine cannot be completely cured, only improved.

Anatomy of the Spine

The spine is a column of 24 moveable bones called vertebrae that are connected to one another by ligaments. The bones are separated by discs, which act as shock absorbers and give the spine flexibility. Each vertebra has a three-joint complex with a large disc in the front and two facet joints in the back. This strong tripod keeps the bones connected, one on top of the other, while allowing our spine to bend and twist.

Spinal Curves

Your spine is made up of three segments. When viewed from the side, these segments form three natural curves.

The c-shaped curves of the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine) are called lordosis. The reverse c-shaped curve of the chest (thoracic spine) is called kyphosis.

These curves are important for balance, and they help you to stand upright. If any one of the curves becomes too large or small, the posture appears abnormal.

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