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Scoliosis

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Last updated November 17, 2021

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What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is when the spine curves more than usual, either from front to back or from right to left. Severe scoliosis can rotate the torso causing visible asymmetry. The chest and lower back areas are most often affected.

In some people, it is caused by congenital (inherited) defects, but often the cause is not known.

Scoliosis may start as early as infancy, but the first signs of the abnormal curvature usually appear during adolescence, continuing until full growth is achieved. Scoliosis may remain undetected for many years, due to the absence of pain and its slow progression, though pediatricians often screen for it. In children and adolescents, an S-shaped curvature may develop in the spine as the body compensates for the original curvature.

Symptoms

Scoliosis is usually painless. It causes a visibly curved spine, leaning to one side, uneven shoulders, and sometimes shortness of breath.

Treatment

Your physician diagnoses sco­liosis with a physical examination and X-rays of the spine. In mild cases, where there is only a small curve, no treatment is necessary. However, your doctor may want to examine you periodically to make sure that the curvature is not worsening.

If it does, you may need to wear a brace or plaster jacket to immobilize your spine. In some cases, surgery is required to realign the spinal vertebrae and fuse them together to straighten the spine.

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