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Scoliosis is a disorder in which there is a sideways curve of the spine, or backbone. Curves are often S-shaped or C-shaped. In most people, there is no known cause for this curve. This is called idiopathic scoliosis.
Of every 1,000 children, 3 to 5 develop spinal curves that are considered large enough to need treatment. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type and occurs after the age of 10. Girls are more likely than boys to have this type of scoliosis. Since scoliosis can run in families, a child who has a parent, brother, or sister with idiopathic scoliosis should be checked regularly for scoliosis by the family physician.
Doctors use a medical and family history, physical exam, and tests when checking a person for scoliosis. An x ray of the spine can help the doctor decide if a person has scoliosis. The x ray lets the doctor measure the curve in degrees (such as 25 degrees) and see its location, shape, and pattern.
In 80 to 85 percent of people, the cause of scoliosis is unknown; this is called idiopathic scoliosis. Before concluding that a person has idiopathic scoliosis, the doctor looks for other possible causes, such as injury or infection. Causes of curves are classified as either nonstructural or structural.