Scoliosis isn’t an actual disease. Instead, it is a term that is used to describe an abnormal curvature of the spine. When viewing the spine from behind, it should appear completely straight. A person with scoliosis will have a spine that curves to the left or right, or it may have two curves. The curve can cause an abnormal gait, pain, and a number of issues. The most common type of scoliosis is idiopathic scoliosis. Although it is the most common of the different types, it only affects 2 percent of the population. This means other types of scoliosis affect a very minute percentage of the population.
Characteristics of Idiopathic Scoliosis
Idiopathic scoliosis hardly ever causes pain. Sometimes the curve is so slight that no treatment is required. If there are no complications from the curve in the spine, it may only be monitored for progression. If the curve progresses over time, treatment may be required.
If scoliosis is detected in teens or young adults, it is possible for the condition to worsen because of how young skeletons can change. Less than 1 percent of untreated cases progress to a point where ribcage space is restricted. If ribcage space is restricted, then heart and lung function may not be optimal. This is the perfect example of when treatment may be needed.
You should know that scoliosis isn’t caused by lifting heavy objects, sports, or exercise. It also doesn’t result from bad posture, odd sleeping positions, or legs of different lengths.
Scoliosis usually develops sometime between the ages of 10 and 18 years old. It is typically detected through school screenings or regular checkups. These screenings look for a curvature of the spine, one shoulder blade protruding more than the other, one hip higher than the other, one shoulder higher than the other, or asymmetry of the waist. If any of these are detected, scoliosis may be closely monitored; if severe, treatment may be required.
While scoliosis is being monitored, it is done in degrees. A mild curvature is a curve of 20 degrees or less and only requires observation. A curvature that is greater than 20 degrees may require nonsurgical treatment, such as a back brace. Surgery is a possibility if it means further curving will be prevented.
It is very important to monitor the condition so that severe curvature can be prevented. A curve that is greater than 50 degrees will likely continue until a child is an adult. If the curve is 70 to 90 degrees, the curve is disfiguring. The chest can rotate and the space for the lungs and heart becomes compressed.
Pain Related to Scoliosis
While pain is possible, it is rare. In fact, a person with scoliosis is just as likely as the rest of the population to develop back pain. If the scoliosis is congenital, it may not have pain. However, neuromuscular scoliosis may be due to an existing neuromuscular disorder. Later in life, degenerative scoliosis can occur.