Is having an abnormal curvature of the spine same as being a hunchback?

Is having an abnormal curvature of the spine same as being a hunchback?

Abnormal curvatures of the spine can lead to multiple problems.

Q. I noticed that my son has an abnormal curvature of his spine. It bends sideways. I have heard of hunchbacks, but this is not considered hunchback, is it?

No. What you term as "hunchback" is called kyphosis.

What your son probably has is a sideways curvature of the spine. This is called scoliosis.

A person's spine has some curves, which are considered normal if you look at it from the side of the person. But when you look at it from the front or back of the person, the body should be straight. The thoracic (chest) spine is normally slightly curved forward.

The cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower) spine is normally bent a little backward. These are considered normal. But if the curves are exaggerated, then they are not normal.

Kyphosis is a curve where the spine is bent forward if you look at a person from the side (as in "hunch").

Lordosis is a curve where the spine is bent backward if you look at it from the side.

Scoliosis is when the spine bends to either side with additional curves, forming a "C" or "S" shape.

Does it happen only in children?

No. It occurs in all ages. It is most commonly seen in children over 10 years old, however. Girls are twice as likely to be affected compared to boys.

It's also an extremely common disorder in the world. As much as 2 per cent of all females can be affected by it in varying degrees.

Oh dear. What causes it?

Mostly, the cause is unknown. Another term for this is idiopathic. More than 80 per cent of all scoliosis is attributed to this.

When scoliosis develops before your child is three years old, it is called infantile idiopathic scoliosis. When scoliosis develops in your child who is aged three to 10, it is called juvenile idiopathic scoliosis.

Once your child is over 10 years old, this is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.

The other 20 per cent of scoliosis can be divided into:

Functional - This is a type of scoliosis that doesn't develop because there's an abnormality in your spine.

Instead, the problem lies somewhere else in the body - for example, if you have injured your hip, or one of your legs is shorter than the other.

Neuromuscular - The bones of your spine are formed during the time when you are in your mother's womb (as a foetus). Sometimes, they don't form properly, or they fail to separate when they are supposed to.

So basically, when the child is born, he/she has some sort of birth defect, such as cerebral palsy. Kids with these conditions often have a long C-shaped curve in their spines and weak muscles that cannot hold their backs up straight.

This type of scoliosis is often very severe.

Degenerative - This type develops in older people. Your spine becomes arthritic due to age and wear and tear (spondylosis).

Your ligaments and tissues weaken and there may be bony spurs developing.

As a result of the weakening, the spine bends sideways.

Does scoliosis cause pain?

For the most part, it doesn't cause pain.

Scoliosis is usually detected by a family member, or you might notice it yourself because one of your hips is higher than the other, or one of your shoulders may be higher than the other.

You may notice that one side of your ribs is more prominent than the other side.

More severe forms of scoliosis can cause back pain, or difficulty in breathing.

Can scoliosis be cured? Will my son have to have an operation? Will it be painful?

You only treat scoliosis when it's severe. In many cases of infantile idiopathic scoliosis, it will improve on its own without any treatment. But the juvenile type can get worse if you don't treat it.

Basically, there are three components of treatment - observation, bracing and surgery. The objective is to prevent the curve from getting worse until your child stops growing.

Most adolescents and children try bracing. Surgery is recommended only if this doesn't work.

If you have functional scoliosis, then the treatment is concentrated on correcting the abnormality in the other part of the body that is causing it.

The neuromuscular type is usually severe and requires surgery. Surgery will correct the spine to as close as normal as possible, and involves spinal fusion - which is more scary-sounding than it really is.

It just basically involves some screws, hooks and rods which are attached to the bones of your spine to hold them in place.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health advice, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail

The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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