What is idiopathic scoliosis?

Updated: Dec 02, 2020
  • Author: Charles T Mehlman, DO, MPH; Chief Editor: Jeffrey A Goldstein, MD  more...
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Answer

Scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine) represents a disturbance of an otherwise well-organized 25-member intercalated series of spinal segments. It is, at times, grossly oversimplified as mere lateral deviation of the spine, when in reality, it is a complex three-dimensional (3D) deformity. [1, 2] In fact, some have used the term rotoscoliosis to help emphasize this very point. Two-dimensional (2D) imaging systems (plain radiographs) remain somewhat limiting, and scoliosis is commonly defined as greater than 10° of lateral deviation of the spine from its central axis.

Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type of spinal deformity confronting orthopedic surgeons. [3] Its onset can be rather insidious, its progression relentless, and its end results deadly. Proper recognition and treatment of idiopathic scoliosis help to optimize patient outcomes. Once the disease is recognized, effective ways exist to treat it. [4]

In the past, terminology such as kyphoscoliosis was inappropriately used to describe certain patients with idiopathic scoliosis. Idiopathic scoliosis has a strong tendency to flatten the normal kyphosis of the thoracic spine. [5] Winter taught that idiopathic scoliosis is a hypokyphotic disease. [6, 7] In most cases, diagnoses of kyphoscoliosis were clinical misinterpretations of the rib hump associated with an otherwise hypokyphotic thoracic spine. Idiopathic scoliosis may present as a true kyphoscoliosis, but this occurs relatively rarely.


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