What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a condition that occurs when the vertebrae start to bend because the back muscles have become very weak. The spine is normally straight, but in scoliosis the spine curves to the left or to the right. In the beginning, the curve is hardly noticeable, but over time it becomes more obvious. Scoliosis can occur after major injuries like a spinal cord injury, where lack of movement or prolonged body positioning can cause the back muscles to weaken. If scoliosis is a problem, a brace or an operation may be needed.

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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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.

Scoliosis is an abnormal curve in the spine. The curvature becomes a problem as a person grows.

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.

Dr. Luke Macyszyn, MD

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.

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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.