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Understanding the Types of Scoliosis

Scoliosis is broadly defined as abnormal lateral, or side-to-side, curvature of the spine. While most people may be familiar with scoliosis being diagnosed among the adolescent population, there is actually more than one type of scoliosis and the condition can develop among people of all ages. While mild scoliosis may not result in symptoms or mobility problems, it can become progressive and have a severe effect on your quality of life.

Whether you have been living with scoliosis or you are learning about potential causes of neck or back pain for you or a loved one, information is an important step in the treatment journey. That’s why we’ve put together the following guide to the types of scoliosis, their symptoms and potential treatment options.

If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to contact the USA Spine Care team today. We’ll be glad to assist you on your journey to relief.

Recognizing normal and abnormal spinal curvature

When viewed from the side, the spine should actually have normal curvature. This is what gives the spinal column its recognizable “S” shape. These natural curves, called lordosis and kyphosis, can develop excessive curvature due to a number of factors including congenital defects and aging. The terms lordosis and kyphosis are also used to describe the disorders related to these curvatures becoming excessive.

Scoliosis is excessive spinal curvature of a different kind. When viewing the spine from the front or back, the spine should appear straight up and down as opposed to the S-shape you see from the side. Scoliosis is defined as left or right curvature greater than 10 degrees. Scoliosis can be further divided into these three classes of severity:

  • Mild scoliosis — Between 10 and 25 degrees of lateral curvature
  • Significant scoliosis — Between 25 to 45 degrees of lateral curvature
  • Severe scoliosis — Greater than 45 degrees of lateral curvature

Scoliosis is not necessarily painful, particularly if you have mild scoliosis. However, it can result in visible deformity, postural issues and mobility problems no matter what type of scoliosis you have. Treatment for scoliosis is dependent on both the degree of curvature as well as the specific type you have been diagnosed with.

Idiopathic scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis is the type most people are familiar with and it is also the most common, comprising 80 percent of all diagnoses by some estimates. Idiopathic conditions are medical problems that arise spontaneously and for which there is not a known cause. In the case of idiopathic scoliosis, it is the diagnosis that doctors use when there is not another known cause, including genetics, a neuromuscular condition, or age-related degeneration.

Idiopathic scoliosis is most frequently diagnosed in adolescents, especially females, and is often associated with periods of growth. In many cases, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is usually temporary, with patients growing out of the disorder with the help of a brace and other interventions.

Congenital scoliosis

This type of scoliosis develops due to problems that occur during growth of an embryo in the womb. Congenital scoliosis is usually diagnosed at birth or very early in life and occurs in a very  small fraction of the population. There are a number of specific issues that can cause abnormal curvature as the spine begins to develop before birth, including:

  • Incomplete formation of the vertebrae
  • Failure of one or more vertebra to separate
  • Combination of incomplete vertebral formation and failure to separate
  • Compensatory curvature

Congenital scoliosis is typically not painful and is usually detected by sight by a pediatrician, a parent or even the child as they grow older. In the most severe cases, congenital scoliosis can require surgery in severe cases where there is significant deformity or if the spinal cord is being disrupted.

Neuromuscular scoliosis

This is a term for scoliosis related to a neuromuscular condition. Neuromuscular scoliosis is often a secondary effect of neurological conditions or muscular disorders due to these conditions disrupting nerves and/or muscles around the spine. Underlying causes of neuromuscular scoliosis include spinal cord trauma, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and atrophy of spinal muscles.

Like other forms of the condition, this type of scoliosis is also common in adolescents. Neuromuscular scoliosis is often identified with the same visual cues as other types, including visible unevenness of the shoulders, prominence of the ribs and a pelvic tilt. As scoliosis is a common byproduct of many neuromuscular conditions, physicians will monitor for development of spinal curvature in patients with underlying conditions.

Treatment for neuromuscular scoliosis generally involves a combination of nonsurgical options, including bracing, wheelchair modification if needed and physical therapy. Surgery may be recommended to slow down the progression of curvature in more severe cases.

Degenerative scoliosis

Also known as adult-onset scoliosis, this type of scoliosis is caused by the natural breakdown of facet joints and spinal discs that lead to excessive lateral curvature. Degenerative scoliosis can occur in patients with spinal arthritis and degenerative disc disease. Patients who have previously been diagnosed with another form of scoliosis may also be at risk.

Degenerative scoliosis can go undiagnosed for many patients, particularly if it is a milder form that does not cause symptoms. In other cases, neuropathic symptoms can develop if displaced spinal anatomy causes nerve compression.

Treatments for this type of scoliosis usually begins nonsurgically and includes over-the-counter medication, physical therapy, therapeutic injections and lifestyle changes. Surgery can become an option in some cases if the progression of curvature is accelerating and causing an increase in symptoms and mobility problems.

Learn about the full range of multidisciplinary treatment options for scoliosis

Scoliosis can seriously disrupt your quality of life, but this is a manageable condition. Whether you are exploring conservative treatment or the possibility of surgery, the caring and knowledgeable team at USA Spine Care can help. Our interdisciplinary experts have years of experience helping patients with a wide range of spine conditions, including scoliosis, find the relief needed for a better quality of life.

To learn more, contact us today or call us toll free at 1-813-535-4025.



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