What is Scoliosis?

What is Scoliosis? | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Scoliosis is a common condition that affects the spine. Most diagnosed cases of scoliosis are idiopathic – meaning that the cause is unknown. There are, however, other types of scoliosis – including the rarely diagnosed congenital scoliosis, which is usually the result of spinal abnormalities in the womb or partial formation of bones, as well as neuromuscular scoliosis, which usually develops as a result of an underlying neurological or muscular disease – such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Compared to idiopathic and congenital scoliosis, neuromuscular-related scoliosis tends to progress more rapidly.

The Look and Feel of Scoliosis

Back pain is the most common symptom associated with scoliosis, though it’s not a symptom that everyone with scoliosis will experience. Your symptoms and their severity also depend on the type of scoliosis you have. Aside from back pain, you may also develop a stiff back, as well as pain (or sometimes described as a tingling sensation) that runs down the leg(s), and sharp pain in the leg(s) while walking. If you have scoliosis you may also notice that your rib cage and hip/waist sticks out on one side, and you may also find it difficult to stand up straight.

Who Gets Scoliosis?

Typically, most cases of scoliosis are diagnosed in children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18. If diagnosed prior to the age of 10, this is referred to as early onset scoliosis. Adults can also develop something known as degenerative scoliosis/adult spine deformity. This type of scoliosis is usually the result of worn out discs and joints. While most cases of scoliosis diagnosed in children and adolescents is considered idiopathic, health professionals have a number of other theories regarding the cause, ranging in everything from asymmetric growth to hormonal imbalances. As many as 30% of all scoliosis patients have a family history of the condition, which suggests genetics may also be a contributing factor.

Diagnosing Scoliosis

The most common tests used to diagnose scoliosis are medical imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, and CT scans. On these scans, scoliosis often appears as a curvature of the spine – similar to the shape of a question mark. Your physician will also examine your back and legs to ensure that your spinal cord and nerve roots are working as they should, and that your back pain isn’t the result of any other underlying condition (i.e. osteoporosis or other joint/bone-related problems.)

Treating Scoliosis

Scoliosis can be treated in a number of different ways, though treatment depends on the severity of the condition. In some cases, over-the-counter medication like Advil (an NSAID) can sometimes be enough to treat the pain associated with scoliosis. However, patients may also require additional treatment such as physiotherapy and acupuncture. In rare cases, back braces and surgery are also considered – though surgery for scoliosis is considered to be quite major, challenging, and is usually only done as a last resort when all other methods have been attempted and proven to have failed.

For more information on scoliosis and other spine-related conditions, visit the Canadian Spine Society’s website at SpineCanada.ca.