Commonly Asked Questions (3)
Everyone’s spine has natural curves. These curves round our shoulders and make our lower back curve slightly inward. But some people have spines that also curve from side to side. Unlike poor posture, these curves can’t be corrected simply by learning to stand up straight.
This condition of side-to-side spinal curves is called scoliosis. On an x-ray, the spine of a person with scoliosis looks more like an “S” or a “C” than a straight line. Some of the bones in a scoliotic spine also may have rotated slightly, making the person’s waist or shoulders appear uneven.
Scoliosis is a descriptive term and not a diagnosis. In more than 80% of the cases, a specific cause is not found and such cases are termed idiopathic meaning “of undetermined cause.” This is particularly true among the type of scoliosis seen in adolescent girls. Conditions known to cause spinal deformity are congenital spinal column abnormalities, neurological disorders, genetic conditions and a multitude of other causes. Scoliosis does not come from carrying heavy things, athletic involvement, sleeping/standing postures, or minor lower limb length inequality.
Determining whether or not you have scoliosis is best done by a physician who performs a physical examination of your back. The examination is done with you standing in a relaxed position with your arms at your sides. The physician will view you from behind looking for curvature of the spine, shoulder blade asymmetry, waistline asymmetry and any trunk shift. You will then bend forward at the waist and the physician will view your back once again to look for the rotational aspect of the scoliosis in the upper part of the back (rib prominence) or in the lower part of your back (flank or waist prominence). Following this simple examination, the physician will usually initial radiographs of the spine viewed from the back and the side to see the entire spine from the neck to the pelvis. If scoliosis is present, the physician will measure the radiographs and provide you with a numerical value, in degrees, to help describe the scoliosis.
- One shoulder may be higher than the other.
- One scapula (shoulder blade) may be higher or more prominent than the other.
- With the arms hanging loosely at the side, there may be more space between the arm and the body on one side.
- One hip may appear to be higher or more prominent than the other.
- The head may not be exactly centered over the pelvis.
- The waist may be flattened on one side; skin creases may be present on one side of the waist.
- When the patient is examined from the rear and asked to bend forward until the spine is horizontal, one side of the back may appear higher than the other. This test, called the Adams test, is a very sensitive test for scoliosis; it is therefore the most frequent screening test for scoliosis.