Scoliosis is a musculoskeletal disorder in which there is a sideways curvature of the spine, or backbone. Some people who have this condition require treatment. Other people, who have milder curves, may only need to visit their doctor for periodic observation.
For most people (80-85 percent of cases), the cause of scoliosis is not known. This is called idiopathic scoliosis.
Doctors classify the other cases of scoliosis into one of two types: nonstructural (functional) and structural scoliosis.
Nonstructural scoliosis is when the spine is structurally normal and the curve is temporary. In these cases, your doctor will try to find and correct the cause.
Structural scoliosis is when the spine has a fixed curve. In these cases, the cause could be a disease, injury, infection, or birth defect. (Click Causes of Scoliosis for more information.)
People of all ages can have scoliosis. Out of every 1,000 children, three to five of them will develop spinal curves that are considered large enough to need treatment.
Idiopathic scoliosis falls into three different age ranges, which include:
- Infantile or early onset (children less than three years of age)
- Juvenile (children between the ages of 3 and 10)
- Adolescent (children older than 10 years of age).
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (where the cause is unknown) is the most common type of scoliosis, and girls are more likely than boys to have this type. Scoliosis can run in families, which means that a child who has a parent, brother, or sister with idiopathic scoliosis should be checked regularly for scoliosis by the family physician.
Although idiopathic scoliosis can occur in children younger than 10 years of age, it is very rare and it is more common in Europe than in the United States.