Scoliosis is a condition in which a person’s spine curves to the left or right in an S or C shape. It can be so severe that it affects how someone walks and looks, though most cases are quite mild.
A diagnosis of scoliosis can sound frightening to people who are not familiar with the condition, so doctors must take time to explain how the severity (or lack thereof) of the scoliosis may affect a patient’s quality of life.
Scoliosis is often diagnosed when the patient is an older child or teenager, though because some cases can be very mild, it may lie undiagnosed until the person is an adult. It is also possible for someone to develop scoliosis later in life, though that is less common than developing it as a child or being born with it. The condition can be progressive or static.
Severity and Effects
Very mild scoliosis may not be visible except through x-rays or if the patient bends over so an observer can see the patient’s spine. The mild form of the condition is often not painful and does not affect movement; a person who has scoliosis this mild may not even realize he or she has it until someone else points it out.
More severe cases, however, may lead to one shoulder or hip being noticeably lower than the other, and very severe cases could be painful and cause breathing trouble if the lungs are compressed. An S-shaped curve is considered worse than a C-shaped curve. That does not mean all S-shaped curves will require more involved treatment, though more monitoring may be possible.
Treatments for mild scoliosis vary. Moderate curvatures may be treated by wearing a customized back brace for a few years, while severe cases may involve surgery in which either an adjustable rod is inserted by the spine, or a portion of the spine is fused.
Because scoliosis can become worse, a diagnosis should not be ignored. Starting treatment as soon as possible is advisable.