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What Is Scoliosis?

Many people ask, "What is scoliosis?" It is a musculoskeletal disorder that can occur at any age. The condition is characterized by a sideways curvature of the spine. In most cases, the cause is unknown. Treatments for this condition include back braces, observation, and surgery.

What Is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a musculoskeletal disorder in which there is a sideways curvature of the spine, or backbone. Some people who have scoliosis require treatment. People who have milder spinal curves may only need to visit their doctor for periodic observation.
 

What Are the Causes?

In most people (80-85 percent of cases), the cause is not known. This type of scoliosis is called idiopathic scoliosis. Doctors classify the other cases of scoliosis into one of two types: nonstructural (functional) and structural.
 
Nonstructural scoliosis is when the spine is structurally normal and the curve is temporary. In these cases, the 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.)
 

Who Gets Scoliosis?

People of all ages can have scoliosis. Out of every 1,000 children, three to five 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 idiopathic scoliosis (children less than three years of age)
  • Juvenile idiopathic scoliosis (children between the ages of 3 and 10)
  • Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (children older than 10 years of age).
 
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (scoliosis of unknown cause) is the most common type of scoliosis; girls are more likely than boys to have this type of scoliosis. The condition 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. Also, it is more common in Europe than in the United States.
 
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