When a person's spine has an abnormal curve to it, they have a condition called scoliosis. About 6 million people in the United States have scoliosis.

If you want to better understand this condition, here are the answers to four frequently asked questions about scoliosis.

1. What Causes Scoliosis?

Some people are born with an abnormality in the spine. This is called congenital scoliosis and it occurs when a part of the spinal column lengthens more slowly than other parts of the spine while the baby grows inside the womb.

Scoliosis can also be caused by neurological or muscular diseases, such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. This is called neuromuscular scoliosis.

In some cases of scoliosis, the cause is unknown. If it is not congenital or neuromuscular, it is called idiopathic scoliosis. This type of scoliosis is most common in adolescents and is usually diagnosed when they hit puberty.

2. What Are the Symptoms of Scoliosis?

The primary symptom of scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. Other symptoms of scoliosis include:

  • Uneven shoulders
  • One hip is higher than the other
  • Head is not centered directly above the pelvis
  • Body leans to one side

Some people with scoliosis also experience back pain.

3. What Are the Treatment Options for Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is considered incurable, however some physicians believe it can be improved. Exercise and physical therapy helps those with scoliosis to decrease pain, strengthen the muscles in their back, and slow the curvature of the spine. Some of the best and safest exercises for scoliosis include swimming, walking, and rowing. Other things that may help to improve the condition include bracing, vibration therapy, and nutritional supplements.

Another treatment option for scoliosis that helps decrease pain and improve posture is spinal fusion surgery. This type of surgery is very invasive and has a long recovery time. A minimally invasive scoliosis procedure is a newer and better treatment option that requires smaller incisions and causes less harm to the back muscles. There is also a much shorter recovery time with the minimally invasive scoliosis procedure.

4. What Complications Are Caused by Scoliosis?

People who have mild cases of scoliosis might not need any treatment. However, for those with severe cases of scoliosis, it is important to treat the condition. Left untreated, severe scoliosis can cause certain complications including:

  • Breathing problems
  • Spine or nerve damage
  • Back pain
  • Changes in appearance

In many cases, if scoliosis is not treated it will cause the condition to become worse over time.