Scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine that is typically found in children and adolescents. In most cases, scoliosis is painless. However, it can become gradually more severe if left untreated, resulting in chronic back pain. In young children, severe cases can cause deformities, impair development and be life-threatening.
In most people, the spine appears straight when viewed from behind, with the lower back bending slightly inward and the upper back bowing a little outward. However, scoliosis patients have one or more side–to–side spinal curvatures that can appear in the shape of an “s” or a “c.” Though this curve is not always visible, it can be seen from behind in many patients. This is especially true in severe cases.
Scoliosis, which comes from the Greek word for “crooked,” is usually diagnosed when a patient has a spinal curvature greater than 10 degrees. It is most often found in patients between 10 and 14 years old, although it can be present in infancy. Infant boys are at higher risk for scoliosis than girls, but girls are at much higher risk for developing scoliosis after age 3.
The cause of about 80 to 85 percent of all scoliosis cases is unknown (idiopathic), according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The most common form of scoliosis is known as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, which occurs when a patient is 10 years old or older. Other forms of scoliosis include infantile idiopathic scoliosis (birth to 3 years) and juvenile idiopathic scoliosis (ages 3 to 10 years). Scoliosis is less common in adults.