Although the spine has a natural curvature, it is not designed to have a side-to-side curve. Scoliosis is the result of the spine curving laterally to form an S-shape. This can disrupt the body's alignment and result in pain and deformities. This condition affects 2 to 3 percent of the population in the U.S. Most cases of scoliosis do not have readily identifiable causes.
When it first begins to develop, scoliosis generally does not cause any symptoms. Children with this disease will not feel any back pain, which means that it can easily go undiagnosed. The main symptoms of scoliosis early in life are uneven shoulder blades and waist, as well as one hip being higher than the other. The danger with this is that if scoliosis goes untreated it can progress and cause severe problems.
Because the spine becomes abnormally curved as a result of scoliosis, it can lead to the joints between the vertebrae becoming damaged. This can lead to chronic back arthritis, which can be painful and difficult to treat. People who had scoliosis as children are more likely to have chronic back pain as adults.
Kyphosis and Deformity
If scoliosis goes untreated the spine can continue progress from being curved to being fully twisted. This condition, known as kyphosis, can result in permanent deformity -- the person always appearing hunched. It can also be very painful.
In severe cases, scoliosis can cause the spine to twist to the point that it alters the location of the rib cage, causing it to be twisted around the body. This can lead to the ribs preventing the lungs from fully expanding, making breathing difficult. It can also lead to a rapid heart rate and frequent shortness of breath.
Scoliosis can cause people to have their hips at different levels, which can cause alterations in the way they walk and stand. The primary change is that people with scoliosis have a more limited range of motion while they are walking, leading to them expending more energy and having a stiffer gait than normal.