If you have scoliosis, where your spine twists and curves toward the left side of your body in a C shape, you may hear it referred to as levoscoliosis.
The curve usually happens in the lumbar (lower) portion of the back, but it can happen in the thoracic (middle) back as well. Sometimes, your spine will form an S shape, with a right arc — dextroscoliosis — and a left arc — levoscoliosis.
Scoliosis can start in people of all ages. It’s most commonly seen in young people when they grow quickly, around the ages of 10 to 15 years.
About 7 million people in the United States have some form of scoliosis. The most common types of scoliosis can’t be prevented, and aren’t caused by bad posture or exercise.
Keep reading to learn more about how scoliosis presents, what causes it, and more.
Most signs of mild scoliosis have to do with the way you look. Scoliosis isn’t usually painful unless it’s severe. Adults with scoliosis tend to have more pain.
Signs of mild to moderate scoliosis include:
- uneven shoulders
- uneven hips
- head not being centered over the body
- one arm hanging lower than the other
- ribs sticking out on one side
- clothes hanging “funny”
- visible curve in the back
Symptoms of more severe scoliosis include:
- back pain
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- leg pain
- trouble controlling bowel or bladder function
About 80 percent of people with scoliosis have idiopathic scoliosis, meaning it has no known cause.
Less commonly, scoliosis may result from:
- Birth defects: When the bones of the spine don’t form properly in the womb, it’s called congenital scoliosis.
- Neuromuscular conditions: Certain diseases like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy can cause scoliosis.
- Degenerative conditions: Arthritis, osteoporosis, compression fractures, and disc collapse can all lead to spinal curvature, especially in older adults.
- Injury: Damage to the spine can result in scoliosis.
Anyone can develop levoscoliosis. A few risk factors to note include family history, age, and sex.
About 30 percent of young people with idiopathic scoliosis have a family history of the condition. This suggests your genes play a role.
Signs and symptoms usually start during the growth spurt just before puberty at age 10 to 12 years.
All sexes are equally likely to develop mild scoliosis. Though girls are eight times more likely than boys to have a curve severe enough to require treatment.
Many young people who have a slight curvature of the spine won’t notice it themselves. It may be spotted in a school screening or at a regular doctor visit.
If you or a family member notices your hips or shoulders seem uneven, you should go to your doctor and have your spine checked out.
Your doctor will ask questions about your growth and any symptoms you may have. They’ll do a physical exam where they’ll look at your back while you bend forward at the waist and hang your arms down. They may check for muscle weakness or numbness.
If your doctor detects a curve during the exam, you may be sent to an orthopedist or other specialist. They’ll order X-rays and use them to measure the curve in your spine.
The curvature must be 10 degrees or more to be considered scoliosis, and it usually must be 25 degrees or more before treatment is needed.
If there’s an underlying cause, such as a tumor or injury, treatment of the scoliosis will depend on treatment for the underlying condition.
Treatment for idiopathic scoliosis varies depending on your age, the severity of the spinal curve, and the likelihood that the scoliosis will get worse with time.
Wait and watch
Children who are still growing and have mild scoliosis will get rechecked every 6 months to see if the curve is getting worse. For many children, no treatment is necessary.
Wearing a brace won’t fix an existing curve, but it can prevent the curve from getting worse as you grow.
A close-fitting plastic brace is worn day and night, but can be taken off for sports and other activities. A brace is no longer useful once your bones have stopped growing.
Chiropractic treatment may help those living with scoliosis to alleviate pain and increase flexibility. Note that this kind of treatment won’t cure scoliosis.
Research in this area is limited, but
It’s important to see a chiropractor who specializes in scoliosis, as non-specialists could potentially make the condition worse.
Your surgeon can use a procedure called spinal fusion to straighten the curve in your spine. Your doctor adds bone grafts to the curved area of the spine, which will then heal into a single, solid bone.
Metal rods may be attached to the spine to keep your backbone straight while the segments of spine fuse together. If you’re still growing, your surgeon may use a rod that can be adjusted as you grow.
Exercise can’t fix your curvature, but it’s important for overall health. Don’t avoid exercise because of scoliosis unless your doctor says so.
Some issues you and the doctor will consider when deciding on a treatment plan include:
Maturity: If your spine’s still growing and changing, waiting and watching — or bracing — may make the most sense until you’ve stopped growing.
Severity of curve: Unless other factors are involved, curves of 10 to 25 degrees can be watched. Curves of 25 to 45 degrees should be braced if you’re still growing. Curves of 45 degrees or more will usually need surgical correction.
Location of curve: Thoracic curves, or curves in the center of the back, are more likely to get worse than curves in the upper or lower back.
Sex: Girls are much more likely than boys to have curves that get worse over time.
Curve pattern: S-shaped curves often worsen more than C-shaped curves.
If your levoscoliosis is in your middle back, your ribcage may press against your heart and lungs. That could result in breathing problems and fatigue. In rare cases, it can cause heart failure.
If you had scoliosis as a child, you may have chronic back pain as an adult.
If you have levoscoliosis, you’ll most likely be able to live a full and active life, including participating in sports.
If you had spinal fusion to straighten your curve, you won’t be able to move in certain ways, so some sports may be harder than others. Your doctor may not want you to play contact sports, such as football.
Spinal fusion also won’t make pregnancy or delivery any more dangerous for you.
Living with scoliosis, wearing a brace, or facing surgery can be difficult for some people. You may find it beneficial to join a scoliosis support group. Your doctor or other hospital staff may be able to recommend a group, or you can search online.