Scoliosis is a deformity of the spine which causes a sideways S- or C-shaped curvature. Many people do not have perfectly straight spines, but medical professionals tend to wait until the curvature is past ten degrees to diagnose scoliosis. A 10° spinal deviation is not easily detectable — it may only appear as a slight droop in one shoulder or a slightly uneven waistline. Some people can have as much as a 30° deviation without noticeable pain. A C-curve is more common than an S-curve. The S shape typically forms as the spine tries to self-correct the original C-shape deviation.
Some reports show that up to 25% of people have scoliosis, but the most severe form only affects about 3%. Most incidents are idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. Girls, especially those in the prepubescent growth stage, are much more likely to develop scoliosis than boys. This may be connected to the earlier growth spurts experienced by girls, usually between the ages of 10 and 14. Adult onset of scoliosis is rare. Neuromuscular conditions such as MS or extremely poor posture can lead to a pronounced curvature of the spine.
Most people with scoliosis either outgrow the condition or undergo successful corrective surgery. Treatment may also take the form of a back brace for those patients who are still growing. The brace is meant to encourage a straighter path for the developing spine to follow, but it won't necessarily correct any existing curvature. A common surgical practice for severe cases involves fusing several vertebrae together to correct the patient's posture and prevent further twisting or curving. Chiropractic treatments such as spinal manipulations do not appear to have very high success rates.
Scoliosis may sound more ominous than it actually is. Unless the degree of curvature is very pronounced, many children and adults may never realize anything is out of order. Many schools offer free scoliosis screenings for younger students, usually around the 8th grade, with any positive findings reported directly to parents. A family physician may also be able to test young patients for any lateral deviations in the spine. If the condition is discovered early and corrective action is taken, the effects of scoliosis can be controlled if not cured.