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General Medical Questions
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Question : Is scoliosis arthritis?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

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July 26, 2011
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A:

No, scoliosis is not a type of arthritis. Scoliosis refers to an abnormal curve in the spine.

When viewed from the back, the normal spine is perfectly straight. But, when viewed from the side, there are normally two curves -- one in the neck (the cervical spine) and one in the lower back (the lumbar spine).

Excessive curvature from front to back or any curve from side to side is called scoliosis.

There are several different types of scoliosis:

  • Levoscoliosis -- a side-to-side curvature to the right
  • Dextroscoliosis -- a side-to-side curvature to the left
  • Kyphoscoliosis -- a front to back curvature (with or without side-to-side curvature)
  • Rotational scoliosis -- the spine is twisted

Scoliosis can be grouped by its causes, including:

  • Neuromuscular -- the cause is a neuromuscular disease, such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy
  • Osteoporotic -- the cause is osteoporosis (and usually causes kyphoscoliosis)
  • Congenital -- the curvature occurs in the womb due to abnormal spine development
  • Idiopathic -- the cause is unknown

While scoliosis is not a form of arthritis, it can be a risk factor for arthritis of the spine. The abnormal alignment of the spine stresses or damages joints. This increases the chances that those joints will become arthritic.

Arthritis can lead to scoliosis, especially if one side of the spine is affected by arthritis more than the other.

Some people have both scoliosis and arthritis of the spine just by chance.

While scoliosis is common, it often requires no treatment. If you're concerned that you or a loved one has scoliosis, talk to your doctor about how it's diagnosed and what treatment, if any, is appropriate.

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