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7 Types of Scoliosis & Their Differences

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), scoliosis affects between 2% and 3% of the American population, or about six to nine million people. It is characterized by an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine and there are many different forms. The various types of scoliosis are classified by cause and age of onset; the speed and mechanism of progression also plays a role in determining the specific type of scoliosis.

Though all forms of scoliosis involve some degree of spinal curvature, some are more severe than others.

What Sets the Different Types of Scoliosis Apart?

There are a number of ways to differentiate between the various forms of scoliosis, but the most common method for classification is based on etiology, or the underlying cause for the condition. AANS suggests there are three categories into which the different forms of scoliosis fit: idiopathic, congenital, and neuromuscular.

Most types of scoliosis are idiopathic, which means that the cause is unknown or that there is no single factor that contributes to the development of the disease.

Congenital forms of scoliosis typically result from a spinal defect present at birth, and are therefore usually detected at an earlier age than idiopathic forms of scoliosis.

Neuromuscular scoliosis is spinal curvature that develops secondary to some kind of neurological or muscular disease, such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. This form of scoliosis tends to progress much more quickly than others.

Knowing how spinal curvature disorders are classified provides a foundation of knowledge on which to build understanding of the specific types of scoliosis.

Below are eight types of scoliosis in greater detail:

Congenital Scoliosis

Congenital scoliosis is fairly rare, affecting only 1 in 10,000 newborns, and it results from spinal abnormalities that develop in the womb. During fetal development, malformation of the vertebrae is one of the most common causes for congenital scoliosis. It may also result from partial formation of certain bones or the absence of one or more bones in the spine. Not only can congenital scoliosis lead to a sideways curvature of the spine, it can cause the child to develop additional curves in the opposite direction – the body’s attempt to compensate for the abnormality.

Because congenital scoliosis is related to spinal defects present at birth, it is typically diagnosed much earlier than other forms of the disease. Symptoms of congenital scoliosis include tilted shoulders, an uneven waistline, a prominence of the ribs on one side, head tilt, and an overall appearance of the body leaning to one side. When symptoms develop, diagnostic tests such as EOS imaging, x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans can be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Early Onset Scoliosis

Scoliosis Signs & SymptomsThe most common age range at which scoliosis is diagnosed is during adolescence – which is why it is called adolescent scoliosis. When scoliosis is present prior to the age of 10, however, it is referred to as early onset scoliosis. It is important to differentiate between adolescent and early onset scoliosis because children over the age of 10 have already completed most of their spinal growth while children under 10 are still growing. Because children under 10 are still growing, early onset scoliosis can affect more than just the spine – it can also lead to malformed ribs, which can affect lung development.

In many cases, children with early onset scoliosis do not show any outward signs of spinal problems, especially if the curve is mild. In order to detect early onset scoliosis, it is important to pay attention to the symmetry of the affected child’s body. Uneven shoulders, asymmetric contour of the waist, uneven hips, tilted head, and leaning can all be signs of scoliosis in children under the age of 10. Upon diagnosis, treatment for this form of scoliosis is more important than for other forms of scoliosis because the child is still developing. Lack of treatment can contribute to lung and heart problems and may even increase the risk of death due to lung and heart disease.

Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis

By far the most common form of scoliosis, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis affects as many as 4 out of 100 children between the ages of 10 and 18. The name for this condition comes from the age of onset (adolescence) and the fact that no single cause has been identified.
By the age of 10, spinal growth has started to slow; if the child has already developed a significant degree of spinal curvature by this point, the curve may continue to progress into adulthood.

There are a number of theories regarding the cause of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, which range from hormonal imbalances to asymmetric growth. About 30% of all adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients have a family history of scoliosis, which suggests a genetic link. In most cases, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients do not experience any pain or neurologic abnormalities – they may even look normal when viewed from the side. When symptoms do develop, they typically take the form of uneven shoulders, a rib hump, or a leaning torso. This form of scoliosis is also sometimes correlated with lower back pain.

While curve progression may naturally slow as the child reaches skeletal maturity , ScoliSMART Clinics highly recommends muscle retraining through Early Stage Scoliosis Intervention (ESSI) as soon as a curve is detected.

Degenerative Scoliosis (De Novo Scoliosis)

Also known as adult onset scoliosis, late onset scoliosis, or de novo scoliosis, degenerative scoliosis is characterized by a sideways curvature of the spine that develops slowly over time. One of the natural consequences of aging is degeneration of the joints and discs in the spine. (In younger individuals, facet joints function like hinges, helping the spine to bend in a smooth motion with intervertebral discs to cushion the individual bones.) Uneven degradation of these discs and joints can cause spinal curvature to become more pronounced on one side – a hallmark of scoliosis.

Degenerative scoliosis most commonly develops in the lumbar spine, or the lower back, and it forms a slight C-shape. When the degree of sideways curvature exceeds 10 degrees (as measured by the Cobb angle), it is diagnosed as scoliosis.

Although many forms of scoliosis are not painful, degenerative scoliosis certainly can be. Common symptoms include a dull ache or stiffness in the lower back, a radiating pain that spreads to the legs, a tingling sensation that runs down the leg, or a sharp pain in the leg that occurs while walking but subsides during periods of rest.

A recent study suggests that more than 60% of the adult population over the age of 60 has some degree of degenerative scoliosis.

De novo scoliosis is directly caused by age-related degeneration of the spine and occurs in adult patients who have no prior history of scoliosis. It is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 50 and it can be diagnosed through physical examination and x-rays. Patients with de novo scoliosis frequently complain of muscle fatigue and lower back pain, as well as stiffness and leg symptoms such as numbness or weakness. Over time, patients often develop poor posture and loss of balance, but treatment is tricky because there are increased risks associated with surgery in older individuals.

Neuromuscular Scoliosis

Technically a type of idiopathic scoliosis, neuromuscular scoliosis develops secondary to various disorders of the spinal cord, brain, and muscular system. Spinal curvature occurs when the nerves and muscles are unable to maintain the proper alignment and balance of the spine and trunk. This curvature is likely to progress into adulthood and may become increasingly severe in patients who are unable to walk. Patients who are confined to wheelchairs may have trouble sitting upright and may have a tendency to slump to one side.

Some of the underlying conditions known to contribute to neuromuscular scoliosis include myelodysplasia, cerebral palsy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Freidrich ataxia, and spinal muscular atrophy. Symptoms associated with neuromuscular scoliosis are typically not painful unless the spinal curvature becomes very pronounced. In many cases, the first sign of scoliosis is a change in posture – either leaning forward or leaning to one side while standing or sitting. Diagnosis can be confirmed through clinical exam and full spinal x-rays, which typically show a long, C-shaped curvature that affects the entirety of the spine.

Scheuermann’s Kyphosis

Whereas scoliosis is defined as an abnormal curvature of the spine when viewed from the front, kyphosis is a forward rounding of the spine. Scoliosis most frequently affects the lower spine, or lumbar spine, while kyphosis usually affects the cervical spine and thoracic spine. Scheuermann’s kyphosis is one of three types of kyphosis and it is typically diagnosed during adolescence. It develops secondary to some structural deformity in the vertebrae and early symptoms include poor posture, back pain, muscle fatigue, and stiffness in the back. In most cases, these symptoms remain fairly consistent and they generally do not worsen over time except in severe cases.

Syndromic Scoliosis

As the name suggests, syndromic scoliosis is a form of scoliosis that develops secondary to some kind of syndrome. Some of the syndromes that are most commonly linked to syndromic scoliosis include Rett’s syndrome, Beale’s syndrome, muscular dystrophy, osteochondrodystrophy, and various connective tissue disorders. Because this condition can be linked to many different disorders, its symptoms are highly variable. Though symptoms are not typically painful, they can cause discomfort or pain with sitting when they are severe. Because the connection between various disorders and syndromic scoliosis is well-known, children who develop these disorders can be screened for scoliosis at an early age.

When to Seek Treatment

Scoliosis comes in many forms, each with its own set of diagnostic criteria and specific age of onset. Because scoliosis is such as variable condition, it can be tricky to make an exact diagnosis and that can lead to difficulty determining the best course of treatment.

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ScoliSMART Clinics provides the first scoliosis treatment approach that uses nutritional support principles in combination with both static and dynamic Auto Response Training equipment. Recent clinical studies have shown that certain neurotransmitter (brain chemical) imbalances are commonly found in scoliosis patients. These neurotransmitters are directly related to your spine’s reflex control mechanism which affects your spine’s alignment.

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