All about Scoliosis

By Vicki Tate

Nearly twice as many females as males will suffer from scoliosis - an abnormal curvature of the spine. It affects approximately 2% of the female population compared to only around 0.5% of males.

There are a number of forms, the most common of which is idiopathic scoliosis which simply means that the cause of scoliosis is unknown. Statistics show that 80% of sufferers have this condition and the majority of them are adolescent females when it is diagnosed.

There are several terms used to describe idiopathic scoliosis according to the age it is diagnosed. If the patient is less than three years old it is known as infantile scoliosis. From three to ten years it is called juvenile scoliosis and above ten years, adolescent scoliosis.

Idiopathic scoliosis is most often seen in children over ten years. Adults who have this kind of scoliosis are more likely to have children with it also. There is no evidence to suggest that the extent of curvature from one generation to the next is in any way connected.

Functional scoliosis is another form, where a perfectly normal spine develops a curve in response to another problem in the body. For example, one leg could be shorter than the other or muscle spasms may be occurring in the back.

Neuromuscular scoliosis is caused when vertebrae do not develop properly and also when the bones fail to separate during foetal development. Confirmation of these spinal deformities at birth is diagnosed as congenital scoliosis. It is usual for birth defects, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, Marfan's disease and similar disorders to also be present. Consequently this type of scoliosis often has a greater degree of severity necessitating more radical treatment.

A fourth type which only occurs in older adults is called degenerative scoliosis. Arthritis causes changes in the spine known as spondylosis. Abnormal bone spurs combined with the weakening of normal ligaments and other soft tissues can lead to an abnormal curvature of the spine. The spine can also be affected by osteoporosis, vertebral compression fractures, and disc degeneration.

Benign but painful tumours such as osteoid osteomata occur in the spine and are another potential cause of scoliosis. To reduce the pain and the amount of pressure applied to the tumour, persons affected lean to the opposite side which in turn can lead to a deformity or spinal scoliosis.

Any age group can be afflicted with scoliosis, but 80% of all scoliosis is Adolsecent Idiopathic Scoliosis or AIS.

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