- Scoliosis is the abnormal curving of the spine -- the spine curves from side-to-side to varying degrees, and some of the spinal bones may rotate slightly, making the hips or shoulders appear uneven.
- Scoliosis affects about 2 - 3% of the population (about 6 million people in the United States). It can occur in adults, but is more commonly diagnosed for the first time in children aged 10 - 15 years.
- Among persons with relatives who have scoliosis, about 20% develop the condition.
- The severity of scoliosis is determined by the extent of the spinal curve and the angle of the trunk rotation (ATR). It is usually measured in degrees. Curves of less than 20 degrees are considered mild and account for 80% of scoliosis cases.
- Braces tend to be used in children with curvatures between 25 - 40 degrees who still will be growing significantly.
- Surgery is suggested for patients with curvatures over 50 degrees in untreated patients, or when braces have failed. Most scoliosis operations involve fusing the vertebrae. The instruments and devices used to support the fusion vary, however.
- Vertebral body stapling is an experimental technique that may prevent curve progression in some young patients with curves less than 50 degrees. It involves stapling the outer curve of the side of the spine facing the chest, which helps stabilize and reduce progression of the inner curve. A study published in 2010 showed high success rates for this procedure in lumbar scoliosis, and more moderate success in thoracic scoliosis. Larger, longer follow-up studies are necessary to determine the best candidates for this procedure.
Review Date: 04/06/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.