Scoliosis is not a disease, but rather it is 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
- 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).
Detection, Diagnosis, and Monitoring
Scoliosis most typically occurs in individuals 10 to 18 years old and is
often detected by school screenings or regular physician visits. A medical
professional will look for:
- Curvature of the spine
- Uneven shoulders, or protrusion of one shoulder blade
- Asymmetry of the waistline
- One hip higher than the other.
Once scoliosis is detected, a physician will continue to monitor the curvature
(read more about scoliosis observation). The progression of spinal curvature
is very well understood and is measured in degrees.
- Mild curvature that remains at 20 degrees or less will most likely require
monitoring and observation, but further treatment is rarely needed.
- Curvature greater than 20 degrees may require non-surgical or surgical
intervention, including treatments such as a back brace for scoliosis
or scoliosis surgery, both of which prevent further progression of the curve.
Preventing severe curvature is important for the physical appearance and
health of the patient. Curves greater than 50 degrees are more likely
to progress in adulthood. If a curve is allowed to progress to 70 to 90
degrees, it will produce a disfiguring deformity.
A high degree of curvature may also put the patient at risk for cardiopulmonary
compromise as the curve in the spine rotates the chest and closes down
the space available for the lungs and heart.
Scoliosis Rarely Causes Back Pain
It is important to note that idiopathic scoliosis results in spinal deformity,
but is not typically a cause of back pain. Of course, people with scoliosis
can develop back pain, just as most of the adult population can develop
back pain. However, it has never been found that people with idiopathic
scoliosis are any more likely to develop back pain than the rest of the