A musculoskeletal disorder that impacts the shape of the spine (backbone), scoliosis gives a side-to-side rather than front-to-back curvature of the spine. A spine afflicted with scolosis, therefore, may appear as the letter “C” or “S” rather then a straight line.

This condition affects the alignment of the body as well as balance and hampers the body’s ability to move naturally and normally. Two percent of people are affected by this condition—essentially a deformation of the spine—that develops most often before puberty. Sometimes traced to hereditary factors, it can also develop from degenerative disc disease or osteoporosis (secondary); be present at birth (congenital); occur when the muscles around the spine are failing, such as in people suffering from cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy (myopathic); be the result of a spinal cord injury (paralytic); or come from an unknown cause (idiopathic, which accounts for 80 percent of cases in adolescents.)

Often, individuals afflicted with scoliosis will show no symptoms—such as pain—at all. However, a diagnosed can be made through multiple evaluations, including a medical history that may uncover conditions leading to the spinal curvature and a physical exam to determine visual irregularities such as an uneven rib cage, tilted pelvis, uneven shoulders or general asymmetry in opposite sides of the body. Imaging is also helpful and often necessary, as x-rays, CT scans and MRIs can detect underlying medical problems related to the scoliosis and assist in measuring the exact angle and curve of the spine, all of which will determine the course of treatment.

In cases where the curve of the spine is not severe (less than 20 degrees), no treatment will be needed but monitoring will be recommended. Non-surgical treatments for scoliosis include the application of a physical bracing device to stop the curve from worsening and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles of the back and encourage a healthy range of motion.

When surgery is required—typically if the curve reaches a point of 50 degrees and is worsening, and if the patient is still growing—a doctor may perform a spinal fusion or implant rods to stabilize the spine and prevent a worsening of the curve.

Although, in recent years, alternative methods for treating pediatric idiopathic have become more prominent—yoga, chiropractic treatments etc.—they have not demonstrated the ability to correct spinal curvature or prevent the curve from worsening, but may be of some benefit in relief of physical symptoms.