Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis

Often learning your child has adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) takes a parent by surprise. Because AIS onset is related to age, your child may have passed one or more scoliosis evaluations in the past. The good news is that now more than ever, research exploring the cause of and genetic basis for AIS is more robust than ever, and there is a growing clinical interest among physicians who seek to help you successfully manage your child’s disease.

What Is AIS?

AIS is by far the most common type of scoliosis, affecting children between ages 10 to 18; it’s found in as many as 4 in 100 adolescents. In general, AIS curves progress during the rapid growth period of the patient. While most curves slow their progression significantly at the time of skeletal maturity, some, especially curves greater than 60o, continue to progress during adult-hood. Many theories exist with regard to the cause of AIS including hormonal imbalance, asymmetric growth and muscle imbalance. Although the cause of AIS remains elusive, we have methods of estimating the risk for curve progression of scoliosis and good methods of treatment.

Genetic Connection

“Idiopathic” means that the condition has no identifiable causes although significant research is ongoing, including the genetic basis for AIS. Approximately 30% of AIS patients have some family history of scoliosis, which would indicate a genetic connection. Many Scoliosis Research Society members are working to identify the genes that cause AIS, and this knowledge continues to expand at a rapid pace.

Symptoms

Patients with AIS typically have no pain or neurologic abnormalities (like weakness) and exhibit a normal appearance when viewed from the side, however, several visible symptoms are associated with AIS:

  • Rib “hump”—A prominence on the back or a rib hump secondary to the rotational as-pect of the scoliosis; the most visible sign of scoliosis.
  • Shoulder height asymmetry—Shoulder height asymmetry is indicated when one shoulder appears higher than the other.
  • Torso “lean”—A shift of the body to the right or the left can occur especially when there is a single curve in the thoracic (chest-part) or the lumbar (lower back) of the spine with-out a second curve to help balance the patient. This often appears as some waistline asymmetry in which one hip appears to be higher than the other and may result in one leg appearing longer than the other.