Scoliosis is a condition characterized by a sideways curvature of the spine, most commonly diagnosed in adolescents. While it can also occur in individuals with conditions like cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, the exact cause of most cases of childhood scoliosis remains unknown.
Many cases of scoliosis are mild, but some may worsen as children continue to grow. Severe scoliosis can be disabling, as an especially serious spinal curve can reduce the space within the chest, making it challenging for the lungs to function properly.
Children with mild scoliosis are typically closely monitored, often through X-rays, to observe whether the curvature is progressing. In many instances, no treatment is required. However, some children may need to wear a brace to prevent further curvature, while others may require surgery to correct more severe curves.
Common symptoms of scoliosis may include:
- Uneven shoulders.
- One shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other.
- An uneven waist.
- One hip higher than the other.
- One side of the rib cage protruding forward.
- Prominence on one side of the back when bending forward.
In most cases of scoliosis, the spine not only curves sideways but also rotates or twists, causing the ribs or muscles on one side of the body to protrude farther than those on the other side.
If you notice signs of scoliosis in your child, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider. Mild curves can develop without noticeable symptoms and tend to appear gradually. Occasionally, teachers, friends, or sports teammates may be the first to notice a child’s scoliosis.
The exact cause of the most common type of scoliosis is unknown, but it appears to involve hereditary factors as it sometimes runs in families. Less common types of scoliosis may be caused by various factors, including neuromuscular conditions like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, birth defects affecting spinal bone development, previous chest wall surgery during infancy, injuries or infections of the spine, and spinal cord irregularities.
Several risk factors are associated with the development of the most common type of scoliosis:
- Age: Signs and symptoms typically emerge in adolescence.
- Sex: Girls have a higher risk of scoliosis worsening and requiring treatment, although both boys and girls can develop mild scoliosis at a similar rate.
- Family history: Scoliosis can be hereditary, but most children with scoliosis do not have a family history of the condition.
Complications of scoliosis can include:
- Breathing problems: Severe scoliosis can press the rib cage against the lungs, making breathing more challenging.
- Back problems: Individuals who had scoliosis as children may be more prone to chronic back pain in adulthood, especially if their curves are large and untreated.
- Appearance: As scoliosis progresses, it may lead to more noticeable physical changes, such as uneven hips and shoulders, prominent ribs, and a shift of the waist and trunk to the side. This can cause individuals with scoliosis to become self-conscious about their appearance.