Scoliosis- definitions/glossary

Vertebrae: The small individual bones that make up the spine. The word for a single bone is vertebra.

Cartilage: is a flexible type of tissue found in many parts of the body where bones are connected such as the joints of the elbows, knees, hips, and vertebrae. Joints are the places in the body where two bones are connected.

Cervical: The seven small individual bones (called vertebrae) at the very top of the spine in the neck.

Cobb angle: This is a measurement of the size of the spinal curve. The curve is measured on an X-ray of the spine. A curve of 10 degrees or less is classed as normal, a curve of between 10 and 30 degrees is classed as mild, a curve of over 60 degrees is classed as severe. Different specialists can measure the Cobb angle in slightly different ways and getting a slightly different number is normal, especially if the curve is large. The measurement is not exact and can vary by up to 7 degrees.

Concave: The inside of the curve (like the inside of a bowl).

Congenital scoliosis: This is when a baby is born with scoliosis. This will usually be because the bones in the spine have not formed fully or are stuck together (fused).

Convex: The outside of the curve (like the outside of a bowl).

Costoplasty/thoracoplasty/costectomy: Sometimes with scoliosis, the curved spine can pull the ribs out of position, which means they might stick out, causing a bulge on the back. A costoplasty or thoracoplasty is an operation to remove part of the ribs that stick out to reduce the size of the bulge. Thoracoplasty has particular risks and complications.

CT Scan: computed tomography scans can produce detailed images of many structures inside the body, including the internal organs, blood vessels and bones.

Degenerative: This refers to a disease or condition that gets worse over time and is often age-related. Degenerative scoliosis affects older people and is usually thought to be caused by ageing of the spine.

De novo scoliosis: De novo or degenerative scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that develops in a previously straight spine because of ageing or premature ageing. It usually develops late in life.

Disc: Discs are a part of the spine. The discs lie between vertebrae. They hold the vertebrae together but allow movement. The discs in your spine are made up of an outer ring of strong tissue and a gel-like middle. Discs can age and prolapse (a slipped disc) which is where a small amount of the jelly comes out. A slipped disc can lead to lower back pain and leg pain, and can also cause numbness and weakness.

Early-onset scoliosis: This is scoliosis that occurs in children younger than age 10. In babies under 3, early-onset scoliosis is sometimes called infantile scoliosis.

Facet joints: Joints are the places in your body where two bones are connected. Facet joints connect each vertebra in your spine. They add stability and allow forward/backward, side bending, and some twisting of your spine.

Growing rods: When a child who is still growing has scoliosis, growing rods allow the curve to be straightened and still allow the child to grow.

Growing rods are attached to the spine above and below where the curve is. They are attached with hooks or screws. The child will need to return every 6 months to have the rods lengthened, so that the rods can keep up with the child's growth. The rods are used to try to help the spine to grow straighter.

Idiopathic: Most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic. This means that no one knows what caused the curve and it could not have been prevented. Research continues into what causes this type of scoliosis.

MAGEC rods: A newer type of growing rod that can be lengthened by magnets. This means that although surgery is needed to put in the rods it is not needed to lengthen the rods. MAGEC rods allow a child to have the rods lengthened quickly and painlessly and avoid having many operations.

Harrington rods: A type of rod that was used in earlier spinal fusion operations. This type of rod is not generally used anymore. Most people have no problems with their Harrington rods. However, in some cases patients have developed flat-back syndrome later in life. Flat back syndrome is where a patient stands leaning forward because they have lost the normal hollow at the bottom of the spine.

Kyphosis: This is the term given to an outward curve of the upper part of the spine. This type of curve makes the back appear more rounded than usual.

Kyphoscoliosis: When someone has both kyphosis and scoliosis.

Late-onset scoliosis: Scoliosis that occurs after the age of 10 years.

Lordosis: is the normal inward curve of the middle and lower back below where the rib cage stops. An unusually large lordosis is sometimes called sway back or hollow back. Patients with large lordosis often have a more forward tilted pelvis (the pelvis is the large frame at the base of the spine – the legs are attached to it).

Lumbar: The lower part of the spine. It is made up of five small individual bones (vertebrae). It is the strongest part of the spine and bears a lot of weight.

Marfan syndrome: Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder. It affects the body’s connective tissue. Connective tissue holds all the body’s cells and organs together. It also helps the body to grow and develop properly. About 50% of people with Marfan syndrome will develop scoliosis.

People with Marfan syndrome are often tall and can have long arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Symptoms vary from person to person. For more information see our Links page for the Marfan support group contact details.

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body

Neurofibromatosis: Neurofibromatosis is the name for genetic conditions that cause tumours to grow along the nerves. The most common type of neurofibromatosis is called NF1. NF1 often causes coffee coloured skin patches, and soft bumps in the skin. Around 1 in 3 patients with NF1 develop other health problems, including scoliosis. For more information see our Links page for support group contact details.

Neurological system: Also known as the nervous system. The neurological system is made up of the nerves and brain.

Obstetrician: a ​doctor with ​special ​training in how to ​care for ​pregnant women and ​help in the ​birth of ​babies.

Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones. It makes them fragile and more likely to break. It is usually caused by a loss of bone density as we age. Bone density is a measurement. It measures the amount of minerals a person has per square centimetre of bone.

Prognosis: This is a medical term which means the likely outcome of a disease or condition. It is a prediction of what will happen to the patient as a result of the disease/condition.

Pulmonary function: The word pulmonary means relating to, affecting, or happening in the lungs. Pulmonary function is to do with how well the lungs are working. There are tests that can measure this.

Rett syndrome: Rett syndrome is a rare condition that affects the development of the brain. It can cause severe physical and mental disability that begins in early childhood. It is rarely seen in boys. A common symptom of Rett syndrome is scoliosis. For more information see our Links page for support group contact details.

Rib prominence: With scoliosis there is a twist (rotation) of the spine. The ribs are attached to the spine, which means that when the spine twists, the ribs can move too. This twisting can cause the ribs to stick out to one side. The ribs will stick out on the side where the curve is.

Scheuermann's kyphosis: Scheuermann's kyphosis is a condition that occurs during adolescence, where the front sections of the small individual bones in the spine (called vertebrae) grow slower than the back sections. As a result these bones grow into the shape of a wedge. These wedge-shaped bones don’t stack up in a straight line, which causes an outward curve of the upper part of the spine. This outward curve is known as roundback.

Scoliosis: Scoliosis is when the spine curves to the side. The spine can also twist at the same time.

Spinal canal: This is a passage formed by the vertebra that contains the spinal cord. It runs down the spine in a vertical tunnel at the back of each vertebra.

Spinal cord: The spinal cord is made of lots of strands of nerves, which run from the brain to the top of your lumbar (lower) spine. This set of nerves connects nearly all the parts of the body to the brain. It can be likened to the big electrical cable that connects the brain to the rest of the body.

Spinal fusion: An operation to correct the curve. It can be done with a metal rod, along with screws or hooks or just with bone grafts. The aim is that after the operation the bone will fuse (join together) by itself. The rods are not usually removed after this fusion (joining) has happened.

Symptomatic: Symptomatic means someone shows signs of a condition or disease. The word symptom means sign.

Syndromic: Relating to a syndrome. A syndrome is a condition that is made up of lots of symptoms (signs) that appear together. Syndromic scoliosis; means that the scoliosis has developed as part of a syndrome.

Thoracic: The thoracic part of the spine is the chest part of the spine. It is usually made up of twelve small individual bones (called vertebrae) with a rib attached to them. Above the thoracic part of the spine is the cervical or neck area. Below that is the lumbar or lower back area. Sometimes the chest is called the thoracic cavity or thorax. In scoliosis, a thoracic curve is a sideways curvature in the chest part of the spine.  

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