Although the spine normally curves gently from front to back, it is normally straight as an arrow from side to side. If it curves, this is scoliosis.
It is simply a curve of the spine from side to side.
The most common type of scoliosis occurs in healthy children with no neurological problems. This is called idiopathic scoliosis. It is slightly more common in girls, and much more likely to require treatment in girls. It can occur at any age, but is most common during puberty.
Some children are born with it. This is called congenital scoliosis, and usually happens in children with an underlying problem such as spina bifida or certain anorectal malformations.
Some children develop it because of an imbalance or weakness in the muscles supporting the spine. This is called neuromuscular scoliosis, and is common in conditions such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.
Children who have leg length discrepancies may also develop compensatory scoliosis.
The most consistent symptom is asymmetry of the back when leaning forward.
Scoliosis usually lasts until treated. Curves less than 30 degrees do not tend to progress after puberty is complete. Those greater than 45 degrees, however, often tend to progress throughout life.
The forward-bending test is the simplest way to screen for scoliosis. X-rays are used to confirm the diagnosis, and to measure and follow the angles of the curves.
Bracing and surgery are the main methods of treatment. Surgery is often reserved for those with greater risk of long-term progression (usually those with curves greater than 45 degrees).
Usually scoliosis cannot be directly prevented. Early treatment of underlying conditions, such as leg-length discrepancies, can prevent some cases. Also, preventing some underlying causes, such as taking folic acid to prevent neural tube defects, can prevent some cases of scoliosis.