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Conditions InDepth: Scoliosis
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. Instead of going from top to bottom in a relatively straight line, a spine with scoliosis may appear to have a side-to-side “S-shaped” or “C-shaped” curve. Mild degrees of scoliosis won’t cause you any problems. However, more severe cases of scoliosis can result in pain, weakness, and low self-esteem because of obvious cosmetic deformity. Very severe scoliosis may cause heart and lung problems if those organs are overly cramped in an abnormally shaped chest cavity.
Most cases of scoliosis begin when a child is around 8 to10 years old with gradual progression of the abnormal curvature as they continue to grow.
There are several types and classifications of scoliosis.
Structural scoliosis occurs because of a vertebral body defect. Classification of structural scoliosis is based on the cause of the defect:
They may also be classified by age at onset as infant, juvenile, or adolescent.
Functional scoliosis is the result of an underlying condition that affects the alignment of the spine due to muscle imbalances, differing leg lengths, or other health conditions that cause the muscles to tense and spasm.
This type of scoliosis can be reversed by treating the underlying condition.
• What are the risk factors for scoliosis? • What are the symptoms of scoliosis? • How is scoliosis diagnosed? • What are the treatments for scoliosis? • Are there screening tests for scoliosis? • How can I reduce my risk of scoliosis? • What questions should I ask my doctor? • What is it like to live with scoliosis? • Where can I get more information about scoliosis?
Altaf F, Gibson A, et al. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. BMJ. 2013;346:f2508.
Campbell’s Operative Orthopaedics. 10th ed. Mosby; 2003.
Idiopathic scoliosis in children and adolescents. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at:
Questions and answers about scoliosis in children and adolescents. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at:
Scoliosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 29, 2013. Accessed November 21, 2013.
Trobisch P, Suess O, et al. Idiopathic scoliosis. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2010 Dec;107(49):875-883.
What is scoliosis? Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at:
Last reviewed November 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
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