Scoliosis (pronounced sko-lee-o-sis) is a three-dimensional abnormality that occurs when the spine becomes rotated and curved sideways. Most often this condition has no known cause, in which case it is called idiopathic scoliosis.
- Infantile idiopathic scoliosis:
- Juvenile idiopathic scoliosis:
- Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis:
Most often this condition has no known cause, in which case it is called idiopathic scoliosis.
While the cause is unknown, idiopathic scoliosis does tend to run in families. The specific genes involved have not all been identified yet, and there could be factors beyond genetics as well.1
Some people mistakenly think that carrying heavy backpacks or sleeping on the side could cause scoliosis, but that is not the case.
About 3% of the population is estimated to have idiopathic scoliosis.2
Typically, idiopathic scoliosis is categorized by the age at which the deformity developed:
- Infantile idiopathic scoliosis: develops from birth to 3 years old
- Juvenile idiopathic scoliosis: develops from 4 to 9 years old
- Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: develops from 10 to 18 years old
Adolescent scoliosis comprises approximately 80% of all idiopathic scoliosis cases. Adolescence is when rapid growth typically occurs, which is why the detection of a curve at this stage should be monitored closely for progression as the child’s skeleton develops.
Early Stages Rarely Have Signs or Symptoms
Any sideways — or lateral — spinal curvature of at least 10 degrees, as measured on an X-ray of the spine, is considered scoliosis. However, that small curve size would not show signs or symptoms.
As the curve progresses to 20 degrees or beyond, there is an increased chance that the person or an observer, such as a parent or teacher, might notice abnormalities such as clothes hanging unevenly or the body tilting to one side.
The idiopathic scoliosis in and of itself is generally not thought to cause significant pain, especially in adolescents and young adults. However, a scoliosis curve can cause trunk imbalances and other issues that increase the likelihood for muscle spasms and other issues, which can in turn lead to pain.