Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What is Scoliosis?

So what is Scoliosis?  My trusty real live paper dictionary defines the word as:


: an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine

It then goes on to inform me that scoliosis rhymes with diagnosis and halitosis. But I digress.

Everyone’s spine naturally curves a bit. But people with scoliosis have a spine that curves too much, and takes the visual form of  an "S" or "C". 

If you were to look at the back of the average person with scoliosis, you would think that it's a normal spine and there's nothing different about it.  But get them to bend forward or give you a sideways view and you might see the curve or a bump in the back.

Being a bright-eyed, clever person you would have noticed the above definition indicated that scoliosis is a lateral curve in the spine, which means "side-to-side". 

Lateral curvature in itself is no big deal.  But spines with scoliosis are also usually curved front to back, which causes some vertabrae to twist.  It's all about the level of degree really.  Too much and the torso becomes unbalanced.  Perhaps one hip rests higher than the other, which means one foot hits the ground differently than the other.  Perhaps the torquing creates a bit of a hump on one side of the back, where either the spine or the ribs have been moved out of place.  Perhaps one's posture is off kilter, with one shoulder higher or more rounded than the other.  Whatever the external outcome, internally, the imbalance means that certain muscles end up having to work way too much and others not enough.  Muscle pain is the usual outcome, as well as muscle imbalance.  It can also lead to arthritis of the spine ("spondylosis", which also rhymes with diagnosis and halitosis in case you were interested)

Severe cases of scoliosis can cause a bit of real trouble.  As the spine curves, ribs often get pulled or pushed out of position, which means breathing can be affected.  The worst cases see ribs puncturing lungs or the heart squeezed to the point where its can cause a heart attack.

Scoliosis is not at all rare; about 1 in 10 children get it in some form or another, although most of these are not really worth being concerned about.  Adolescence is when it most frequently manifests, perhaps after a growth spurt, so that's the best time to see the birth of scoliosis in its natural habitit. Just like bird watching, some patience and a watchful eye are needed.   

Some cases of scoliosis are the result of an accident or a neuromuscular condition (e.g., cerebral palsy or spina bifida), but the the cold hard truth is that the cause of most cases is completely unknown.  It isn't called ideopathic scoliosis for nothing; no one is idiotic enough to say definitively how it is caused!

Sorry about this ladies, but girls seem to have scoliosis more than boys.  That's not to say boys don't get it too, but girls get it more.  Lucky us.  As scoliosis appears most often after a big growth spurt at puberty, this gender imbalance has lead to speculation that girls get it more because of their maturing sexual organs and increasing hip size.  But there has been no study proving any of that.  Further specuation is that it is congenital (which means it happens in the womb) due to some twist or kink that causes the spine to form itself differently.  Another theory is that the epidural sac that surrounds the spine gets rucked at some point in its early formation and causes the spine to move likewise as it grows.  Again, no proof exists for any of these hypotheses. There has been no link between scoliosis and any bone disease or anything else things that affect infants or children.

One of the strongest beliefs out there that it is genetic and thus hereditary.  Scoliosis certainly does seem to run in families, and particularly in the first degree of relations (mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, etc.) but as yet there has been no specific "scoiliosis" gene identified.  The only things that we know about it for sure is that scoliosis does not result from bad diet or bad posture or bad carrying habits (i.e., backpacks or book bags worn on only one shoulder). 

There are tons of websites defining and describing scoliosis. Here are a few that helped inform me:



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