What is scoliosis?

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Dr. Ioannis A. Avramis, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Ioannis Alexander Avramis, MD, explains the three types of scoliosis.

Scoliosis is characterized by a sideways or lateral curvature of the spine. People with scoliosis show an abnormal curve in one direction and a compensatory curve in the opposite direction.

Scoliosis can be functional or structural. Functional scoliosis can be caused by unequal leg length, muscle imbalance, or nutritional deficiency. Structural scoliosis is caused by some defect in the bony structure of the spine.

This answer provided for NATA by the Gustavus Adolphus College Athletic Training Education Program.

Scoliosis means a curve to the spine, making it look like an S. Doctors don't define it as scoliosis unless the curve measures 10 degrees on X-ray, so really minor, subtle curves don’t cause problems. Scoliosis can start when you’re just a kid, but usually it develops in adolescence, affecting 3 percent to 5 percent of all teenage girls, but only 15 percent of those cases are serious enough to require any treatment. Guys, you have it easy: Scoliosis affects only one boy to every seven or eight girls. If it starts before you hit a growth spurt, it can progress faster and be more of a problem if you don’t receive the right interventions

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A few years ago, we wrote YOU: The Owner’s Manual, which taught people about the inner workings of their bodies—and how to keep them running strong. But you know what? There’s a big difference...

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine develops a curved appearance, somewhat like the letters S or C, rather than being straight. Scoliosis primarily begins before the onset of puberty, but worsens and becomes more obvious during the faster growth of  puberty. Spinal curvature typically occurs in healthy children, but the condition can be the result of birth defects or muscular and skeletal diseases.

Dr. Luke Macyszyn, MD
Neurosurgeon

Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine that measures greater than 10 degrees. Anything less than that doesn't constitute true scoliosis and is considered within the normal range. Most cases of scoliosis are diagnosed in adolescence. Doctors frequently call scoliosis idiopathic because they don't really know what causes it, especially in adolescents. There are other forms of scoliosis, such as infantile scoliosis, which occurs from birth to 2 years of age, and juvenile scoliosis, which occurs from age 3 to 9 years of age. Scoliosis before adolescence tends to progress more rapidly and may be related to a developmental anomaly.

Amir Ahmadian, MD, from Medical Center of Trinity describes what scoliosis is and how it is diagnosed in this video.

Dr. Jaren M. Riley, MD
Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon
Scoliosis is an abnormal curve in the spine. In this video, orthopedic surgeon Jaren Riley, MD, of Rocky Mountain Pediatric Orthopedics, describes how the curvature becomes a problem as a person grows.

Continue Learning about Scoliosis

Scoliosis

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine -- a disorder that typically occurs just before puberty and is more common in girls. Schools and pediatricians screen for scoliosis; uneven shoulders or hips are often provide clues. If your c...

hild has a curvature, make sure you see your pediatrician regularly to monitor it. Scoliosis is sometimes temporary. Often, the curvature is mild enough that it doesn't require treatment. Doctors monitor scoliosis to determine if it's getting worse -- and for some this may mean wearing a brace or having surgery.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.