Scoliosis is not a disease, but rather a term used to describe any abnormal, sideways curvature of the spine. Viewed from the back, a typical spine is straight. When scoliosis occurs, the spine can curve in one of three ways:
- The spine curves to the side as a single curve to the left (shaped like the letter C), called levoscoliosis
- The spine curves to the side as a single curve to the right (shaped like a backwards letter C), called dextroscoliosis
- The spine has two curves (shaped like the letter S).
Idiopathic scoliosis, is the most common type of scolisosis. The term idiopathic means a condition or disease with no known cause.
Idiopathic scoliosis is by far the most common cause of scoliosis in children. Degenerative scoliosis is the most common form of scoliosis in adults.
Idiopathic scoliosis rarely causes pain, and in most cases the curve is minor enough to be considered an asymmetry and does not require any treatment. However, once scoliosis is detected a medical professional should closely monitor it in the event that the curve progresses and needs treatment.
Because the skeletons of children and young adults grow quickly, there is a reasonable chance that if a curve is detected, the degree of the spinal curve may worsen as the spine continues to grow. In those cases, scoliosis treatment may become advisable. Untreated, scoliosis can progress to where it restricts space in the ribcage needed for optimal heart and lung function.
Without an X-ray of the spine, there are several common physical symptoms that may indicate scoliosis. One of the most common tests for detecting scoliosis is called the Adam’s Forward Bend Test, in which the individual bends from the waist as if touching the toes. The medical professional then observes for one or more of the following signs of scoliosis:
- One shoulder is higher than the other
- One shoulder blade sticks out more than the other
- One side of the rib cage appears higher than the other
- One hip appears higher or more prominent than the other
- The waist appears uneven
- The body tilts to one side
- One leg may appear shorter than the other