June is Scoliosis Awareness Month! In that spirit, this article discusses a few basics about scoliosis. Scoliosis describes a sideways curve in a person’s spine. The technical definition is a curve of at least 10 degrees. Curves less than 10 degrees are considered normal. While we often focus on the sideways bending/curve, scoliosis is actually a complex three-dimensional change to the spine that involves rotation of the vertebrae.
We separate scoliosis into different categories based on several factors. The first factor is age. Early-onset scoliosis affects children under 9 years of age, while adolescent scoliosis affects children and young adults between 10 and 18 years old. Adult degenerative scoliosis is found in adults and is generally due to wear and tear or arthritis of the spine. Adult degenerative scoliosis is a distinct condition from the one that affects children and therefore has a different treatment approach.
Early-onset and adolescent scoliosis are further divided by cause. Idiopathic scoliosis refers to a spinal curvature that does not have an identifiable cause. It accounts for 80% of scoliosis cases. Other causes can be neuromuscular, where various conditions lead to muscles that are either weaker or tighter on one side compared to the other. Congenital scoliosis can result from abnormal formation of elements of the spine, such as cases where a disc does not completely form and causes a curvature of the spine as the patient grows.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type of scoliosis in children and young adults. Children who have a substantial amount of growth remaining and have a curve between 20 and 40 degrees may benefit from bracing. When the curve exceeds 50 degrees, there is a significant risk of further progression in adulthood. On average, curves that are over 50 degrees progress at a rate of 1 degree per year. Due to this risk of progression, surgery may be an option in these cases.
Adult degenerative scoliosis can cause significant limitations in patients’ quality of life. This type of scoliosis is commonly associated with increased hunching over. As the spine loses its natural curvature and the person becomes more hunched over, it becomes more difficult to stand upright and walk long distances. Correcting this type of scoliosis has been shown to improve patients’ quality of life!
If you have any further questions about scoliosis, please visit the Spine Team at the Reno Orthopedic Center!