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Scoliosis (Curved Spine)

  • What is scoliosis?

    Scoliosis occurs when the spine curves from side to side. Usually in an ‘S’ shape, the spine may also be rotated. The condition can be mild, moderate or severe.

    The main types of scoliosis are:

    • Congenital scoliosis – congenital birth defects in the spine and is often associated with other organ defects
    • Degenerative scoliosis – degeneration of the discs that separate the vertebrae (small bones that form the backbone) or arthritis in the joints that link them. This occurs later in life
    • Neuromuscular scoliosis – loss of control of the nerves or muscles that support the spine and is commonly due to cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy
    • Scoliosis of unknown cause (idiopathic) – one of the most common forms of scoliosis,  which usually occurs during childhood or adolescence
  • The causes of scoliosis depend on the type and it is not caused by carrying heavy objects (eg. a heavy school bag on one shoulder), sports or physical activities, poor standing or sleeping postures or a lack of calcium in the diet.

  • Many signs of scoliosis are noticeable and can be discovered in early childhood. These include:

    • ‘S’-shaped curve in the back when standing
    • A tilt in the waistline
    • Curving of the body to one side when viewed from the front or back
    • One breast appearing higher than the other in women
    • One shoulder that appears higher than the other

    Scoliosis is usually found in school children during health screening by nurses who look for unevenness of the torso when the child bends forward.

  • Treatment includes:

    • Wearing a brace to stop the worsening of the spinal curve. This does not reduce the curve that is already present
    • Observation for mild curves less than 25 degrees
    • Surgery, which is recommended for growing children with curves more than 40 degrees and for curves more than 50 degrees at any age:
      1. to prevent further worsening of the curve
      2. to control the curve when brace treatment is unsuccessful
      3. to improve the cosmetic appearance
      4. to reduce discomfort or postural tiredness

    Scoliosis cannot be corrected by learning to sit or stand up straight.

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