Scoliosis is not a disease—it is a descriptive term. All spines have curves. Some curvature in the neck, upper trunk and lower trunk is normal. Humans need these spinal curves to help the upper body maintain proper balance and alignment over the pelvis. However, when there are abnormal side-to-side (lateral) curves in the spinal column, we refer to this as scoliosis.
Who is at risk?
Scoliosis affects 2% of women and 0.5% of men in the general population. There are many causes of scoliosis, including congenital spine deformities, genetic conditions, neuromuscular problems and limb length inequality. Other causes for scoliosis include cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy and tumors. Over 80% of scoliosis cases, however, are idiopathic, which means that there is no known cause. Most idiopathic scoliosis cases are found in otherwise healthy people.
Idiopathic scoliosis is broken down into four categories based on age: (1) infantile: children ages 3 and under, (2) juvenile: 3-9 years old, (3) adolescent: 10-18 years old, and (4) adult: after skeletal maturity. The most common form of scoliosis, representing approximately 80% of idiopathic scoliosis cases, is Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS), which develops in young adults around the onset of puberty.
People with a family history of spinal deformity are at greater risk for developing scoliosis. Early detection is essential. For more information on how to know if you or someone you know has scoliosis, see the symptoms page.
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