Does your child have uneven shoulders, with one shoulder appearing higher than the other? Or an oddly curved spine that looks like the alphabet S? These are some of the symptoms of scoliosis, a medical condition commonly affecting children and adolescents, particularly girls.

The prevalence of scoliosis is the highest during the growth spurt years, between the ages of 9 and 15. Scoliosis also affects adults, but is less common.

In scoliosis, the normally straight spine curves from side to side due to a deformity in the bone. The deformity can be congenital, present from birth, or it can develop during the growing years. Most often, there is no known cause, and the condition is then called “idiopathic scoliosis”.

“Scoliosis is a deformity of the spine, and should not be confused with poor posture, which is generally associated with weak muscles of the spine,” says Dr Guo Chang Ming, Senior Consultant, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

Types and causes of scoliosis

  • Idiopathic scoliosis: This most commonly affects children over the age of 10 when it is referred to as adolescence scoliosis. This type of scoliosis can also affect children below the age of 3 (infantile scoliosis) and children between 3-10 years (juvenile scoliosis). In Singapore, the prevalence of idiopathic scoliosis in schoolgirls is 1.4 per cent at the age of 11-12 and 2.2 per cent at the age of 13-14.
  • Congenital scoliosis: Present at birth and caused by a bone abnormality.
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis: Caused by an abnormality in muscles or nerves, and commonly seen in patients with spina bifida or cerebral palsy.
  • Degenerative scoliosis: Occurs later in life and may result from injury to bone or degeneration of joints found in conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis.

“Scoliosis is not caused by carrying heavy objects, such as heavy school bags, strenuous sports, poor posture, or a lack of calcium and other nutrients in the diet,” says Dr Guo. “Though the cause of idiopathic scoliosis is by definition unknown, it may have a genetic basis since it is known to run in families.”

Signs and symptoms of scoliosis

  • Abnormal curving of the spine which appears as an S or C shape
  • Uneven shoulders or a prominent shoulder blade
  • Uneven hips
  • Uneven waist, with a tilt to one side
  • In adult females, there may be uneven breasts with one breast appearing higher

Read on to learn about scoliosis' treatment and complications.

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