What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is an abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine away from the midline. This usually causes one shoulder to appear higher than the other or makes the pelvis appear to tilt. In addition to the side-to-side curving, there may also be some rotation of the spine. This rotation, when present, may make your waist or shoulders look uneven. A variation of scoliosis, called kyphoscoliosis, may also involve abnormal front-to-back curvature.
The spinal column refers to the column created by your vertebrae. It consists of 24 articulating vertebrae that run from the top and back of your neck down your back and are separated by cushiony intervertebral discs. This is followed by nine fused vertebrae in the sacrum and coccyx at the base of your spine.
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Scoliosis usually develops during childhood and may easily be overlooked. When the condition is discovered in an adult, it may actually be the progression of undetected childhood scoliosis. However, both scoliosis and kyphosis can develop in adulthood, usually in response to degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones), or spondylosis (spinal degeneration).
Scoliosis is not life threatening and often does not progress. It is important to treat any related pain (usually in adults only) to prevent debilitation. Although scoliosis in a child should be monitored regularly as the child grows, often it needs no intervention at all. In some cases, treatment can prevent further progression, so it is important to monitor spinal changes regularly.
Scoliosis is usually a mild condition and sometimes requires no treatment. In rare cases of severe curvature that is left untreated, the rib cage may be compromised and press in on the heart or lungs, making it difficult for them to function. Seek prompt medical care if you experience worsening of your back pain or if you notice uneven shoulders or waist or elevated hips.