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What is scoliosis?

A normal spine, when viewed from behind, appears straight. However, a spine affected by scoliosis shows evidence of a lateral, or side-to-side curvature, with the spine looking like an “S” or “C” and a rotation of the back bones (vertebrae), giving the appearance that the person is leaning to one side. According to the Scoliosis Research Society, scoliosis is defined as a curvature of the spine measuring 10 degrees or greater.

Scoliosis is a type of spinal deformity and should not be confused with poor posture.

Spinal curvature from scoliosis may occur on the right or left side of the spine, or on both sides in different sections. Both the thoracic (mid) and lumbar (lower) spine may be affected by scoliosis.

What causes scoliosis?

In more than 80 percent of cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown – a condition called idiopathic scoliosis. In other cases, scoliosis may develop as a result of degeneration of the spinal disks, as seen with osteoporosis, or as a hereditary condition that tends to run in families.

The abnormal curves of the spine are classified according to their cause, including the following:

nonstructural scoliosis (Also called functional scoliosis.)

In this condition, a structurally normal spine appears curved due to one or more underlying conditions (i.e., difference in leg length, an inflammatory condition, etc.). This type of scoliosis is generally temporary and is often relieved when the underlying condition is treated.

structural scoliosis

The possible causes of structural scoliosis are numerous, including the following:

  • of unknown origin (idiopathic structural scoliosis)
  • disease (i.e., neuromuscular, metabolic, connective tissue, or rheumatoid disease)
  • birth defect
  • injury
  • infection
  • abnormal growth or tumor
Treatment of scoliosis:

Specific treatment of scoliosis will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the condition
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference