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Behind scoliosis

Scoliosis is a sideways curving of the spine that typically develops in adolescence and, in most cases, has no known cause. In adults, the presence of scoliosis may be the result of an undiagnosed or untreated case from childhood or indicate the breakdown of the spine from such causes as osteoporosis, disc degeneration, compression fractures or a combination of conditions. Scoliosis also tends to run in families.

Signs of scoliosis

Most cases of scoliosis are mild and may not cause any pain. But in severe cases, the condition can be disabling. Symptoms of scoliosis include:

  • uneven shoulders, or one shoulder that seems to be more prominent than the other
  • uneven waist
  • uneven hips

In more severe, rarer cases, someone with scoliosis may experience:

  • ribs that stick out farther on one side than the other
  • back pain
  • trouble breathing or heart problems (severe curvature can reduce space within the chest and inhibit lung and heart function)

Diagnosing scoliosis

A simple X-ray can diagnose scoliosis and show its severity. If a healthcare provider thinks there’s an underlying cause for the scoliosis—such as a tumor—an MRI, CT scan or bone scan may also be ordered.

Treating scoliosis

Treatment is decided on an individual basis and depends on the presence of symptoms. Conservative treatments may include pain medication, exercise, bracing and moist heat.

Surgery to help correct the spine is usually unnecessary but may be considered if pain is persistent or the spine’s curvature is severe or causes deformity. Surgical options include spinal fusion and use of instruments such as rods, wires, screws and other devices.