What Is a Curved Spine?

Scoliosis occurs when the spine curves.
A curved spine may be caused by a benign spinal tumor.
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  • Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2014
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A curved spine is often the result of a medical condition called scoliosis. There are three basic types of scoliosis, including functional, degenerative, and neuromuscular. A curved spine can also be caused by a benign spinal tumor, which may cause some people to tilt to one side due to an immense amount of pain.

There is no known cause of scoliosis, though each type is distinctly different. Functional scoliosis denotes a normal spine that is slightly curved due to another physical problem. For example, if one leg is shorter than the other, a curved spine is often the result. Likewise, any kind of muscle spasm that occurs within the back area may lead to a spine that is curved.

Degenerative scoliosis only affects older adults who are suffering from severe arthritis. As the name suggests, degenerative scoliosis cannot be reversed, and it tends to become worse as time progresses. Neuromuscular scoliosis is usually caused by a type of birth defect, which is why many younger people suffer from this ailment. This type of scoliosis frequently occurs when the bones within the spine are not formed properly.

Scoliosis symptoms include the noticeable curving of the spine, shortness of breath, back pain, and even chest pain. While shortness of breath and chest pain are rare, these symptoms can occur if the spine has become drastically curved. Still, most people do not experience any kind of pain due to a curved spine.

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The only way to determine whether or not a person is suffering from scoliosis is through a complete physical examination. Upon visiting with a medical doctor, a patient will be asked to remove any items of clothing from the waist up. This way, a medical professional can examine the curvature of the spine.

If scoliosis is detected, there are a couple of things that can be done to help correct this ailment. Before any type of treatment can begin, it is crucial that the type of scoliosis a person is suffering from be noted. Since the three types of scoliosis are drastically different from one another, three completely unique treatments exist for each type.

Functional scoliosis is treated, if possible, by correcting the problem that is causing a curved spine. Neuromuscular scoliosis is often treated with the help of specialty braces and surgery, while degenerative scoliosis is treated with physical therapy sessions and minor surgery. Any person suffering from back pain, a curved spine, or any of the other symptoms listed above should seek medical attention right away.

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Discuss this Article

isomac
Post 5

My daughter is eight. She has NF1 and I have now found out she has a curve in her spine. What can I do to help her?

seHiro
Post 4

Is there any way to notice scoliosis or to examine the spine at home and recognize it for what it is without a doctor's help? My daughter has started complaining about her back aching and feeling stiff, and she has a curve in her lower back, so I'm starting to wonder if she's developing scoliosis.

I can't afford to take her to the doctor for something that seems like just a hunch, though, and I'll admit I'm not comfortable with asking her to take her shirt off for the doctor to look at her, either. Is there a tutorial anywhere on a home scoliosis exam?

TheGraham
Post 3

@aishia - You're lucky, and so is malmal. I have the kind of scoliosis that makes your back hurt, you neck hurt -- actually, I ache all over thanks to my spine not being aligned right. Going to the chiropractor does help for a little bit, but I need to have my back adjusted very often -- at least once a week.

My doctor says that it may be uncomfortable, but it's not chronic pain, so the possibility of fixing it is not worth the risks that come with surgery. I agree with him -- I'll take achiness for the rest of my life any day over paralysis from the neck down.

aishia
Post 2

@malmal - Wow, so I'm not the only one who didn't know they had scoliosis until they were an adult! I finally learned about mine when I went in to the doctor for a checkup shortly after I discovered that I was pregnant. I don't usually do the checkup thing, but I figured since I'm having a baby I better make sure I'm in good health, and especially if there was anything weird about me that might complicate the pregnancy.

Anyway, the doctor informed me that I have a curved spine. When he had me look straight down at my chest and the edges of my rib cage and demonstrated that one side of my rib cage stuck out slightly further than the other, I was shocked that I hadn't noticed it before.

The good news is that having scoliosis will not endanger my baby or me. Unfortunately, later on when my belly gets big the doctor says the stress on my curvy spine will probably give me back pain and/or strain, so I'm supposed to take it easy during the last month or so.

I always figured myself for one of those women who worked and exercised and did house work right up until she went into labor, but I guess my spine had other ideas.

malmal
Post 1

I have a pretty strong S-curve shape in my spine, but since it doesn't hurt, I never knew about it until I went to the chiropractor as a young adult. My family was pretty poor growing up, and mom wasn't the type to run to the doctor for every little thing partly because she couldn't afford it, so I never received any checkups enough for anybody to notice my curvy spine when I was younger.

The chiropractor was doing an initial examination that was specially priced, and included an x-ray of the spine. She hung the picture up on the wall and I felt this kind of mixture of awe and feeling disturbed, seeing what my spine looks like. It looked very, very off, but it doesn't feel off and it doesn't hurt.

The chiropractor explained that my spine grew this way throughout childhood, and might have been correctable back then, but that now it is too late to change it.

On the plus side, my spine being shaped this way doesn't cause me any discomfort or get in the way of regular life, so she said it doesn't need surgery or any corrections, either. I hear that some extreme scoliosis patients need metal rods in their backs -- I'm so glad that that isn't me!

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