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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a sideways, often S- or C-shaped curvature of the spine. There are three general categories or causes of scoliosis, including:

  • Idiopathic scoliosis: in most cases, there is no known cause for the curve.
  • Congenital scoliosis: present at birth and is due to a problem with the formation of the vertebrae or with ribs that were fused during development in the womb
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis: caused by problems such as:
    • Poor muscle control or muscle weakness
    • Paralysis due to diseases like:
    • Cerebral palsy
    • Muscular dystrophy
    • Spina bifida
    • Polio

Causes of Scoliosis

For most people, the cause is unknown. People of all ages can have scoliosis, and the most common type is idiopathic scoliosis, often seen in children ages 10 to 12. Scoliosis can also run in families.

While the cause of the curvature in scoliosis is often unknown, doctors classify curves as:

  • Nonstructural: the spine is structured normally, the curve is temporary.
  • Structural: the spine has a fixed curve possibly caused by disease, birth defect, infection, or injury.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Backache or lower back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Shoulders or hips that appear uneven
  • Spine curves abnormally to the side

Treatment

Treatment for scoliosis is determined by various factors, such as:

  • Patient’s age
  • How much more they are likely to grow
  • Degree and pattern of the curve
  • Type of scoliosis

Your doctor may recommend several therapeutic options, including:

  • Observation
  • Bracing
  • Surgery

Observation

If scoliosis is indicated, your doctor may check every four to six months to determine if the curve is getting better or worse. This is most commonly done in cases of slight curvature, or in patients who are still growing.

Bracing

In cases of children who are still growing, and show signs of a worsening curve, doctors may recommend a brace to stop the curve from getting more pronounced.

Surgery

In cases when the curve is more than 45 degrees and is continuing to get worse, surgery may be performed, typically spinal fusion or use of hardware (metal rods and/or screws) implants to help keep the spine straight after surgery.

What Won’t Work

The following treatments have been found not to keep scoliosis from getting worse:

  • Chiropractic
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Exercise
  • Nutritional supplements

Research & Clinical Trials

Researchers are trying to discover what causes idiopathic scoliosis, and what different treatments can be used to help straighten the spine or keep curves from worsening.

A searchable index of NIH clinical trials may be found at www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Last UpdateJanuary 26, 2012
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