Understanding the Difference between Mild, Moderate, and Severe Scoliosis


Scoliosis, which pertains to abnormal curvature of the spine, is a highly common spinal deformity that is thought to afflict between 2% and 3% of the world’s population. In Singapore alone, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis—or scoliosis without a definite cause—occurs in 1.4% of girls aged 11 to 12 years old and 2.2% of girls aged 13 to 14 years old. The condition is more common among girls compared to boys, with the ratio being 7:1 in Singapore.

Though the side effects of scoliosis are not always serious, in some cases the condition can cause increasing amounts of pain to the patient to the point where it hampers their quality of life. On top of enduring physical pain, people with scoliosis may also experience difficulty engaging in activities like sports and leisure with their peers. As a consequence, their condition can incite feelings of anxiety or low self-esteem.

The sooner you know about the type of scoliosis that you or one of your loved ones may be experiencing, the sooner you can get appropriate medical treatment. Here’s what you need to know about the three levels of severity for scoliosis cases, as well as the ideal approach for intervention.

What Characterises Mild Scoliosis?

Doctors use the Cobb angle – or the sum of the tilt angles for the upper and lower vertebra as they appear on a spinal x-ray – to determine the severity and risk progression of scoliosis. Mild scoliosis is characterised by a small curvature of less than 25°. But for curvatures past the 20° mark, the patient’s risk progression can go up by as much as 68%.

Mild scoliosis is sometimes difficult to detect because the patient may not initially feel pain. However, if they always seem to be slouching or assuming a forward head posture by default, and if their clothes seem to hang unevenly at the waist or leg, it may be time for them to get a check-up.

A doctor will likely use either a scoliscore test or x-ray imaging to make a further conclusion about the patient’s risk of progression. The treatment approach for a patient with mild scoliosis is often conservative, typically consisting of regular check-ups to see if the curve is worsening as well as cosmetic interventions like scoliosis braces.

Even if the scoliosis seems mild, it’s best to err on the safe side and to get treatment before the spine curves even further. Doing so will save the patient from suffering increased pain and inconvenience in the future.

What Characterises Moderate Scoliosis?

Moderate scoliosis is characterised by a curvature that is between 26° and 40°. At this stage, it’s quite common for the patient to experience pain in their spine or at the base of their rib cage. In addition to feeling pain, they may also feel more fatigued or get more easily winded after physical activity. Other apparent signs of moderate scoliosis are unevenness in the shoulders or hips, one shoulder blade hanging higher than the other, and the appearance of a hump in the rib area.

This type of scoliosis is important to treat early so that the patient can increase their lung capacity and avoid compromising their other organs. Treatment for moderate scoliosis typically involves the usage of either a soft or rigid brace, although surgery may be recommended if the curvature increases.

What Characterises Severe Scoliosis?

The last and most severe type of scoliosis is severe scoliosis. Severe scoliosis pertains to any spine curvature that goes beyond 40°. With a 90% chance of progressing further, severe scoliosis deserves urgent intervention.

Signs of severe scoliosis include a perceivable “S”- or “C”-shaped spine underneath the skin, uneven shoulders and hips, a tilted head, noticeable rib humps, and an off-centre belly button. The patient may frequently experience pain and headaches as part of their condition, and they may get easily tired from physical activity as well as long periods spent standing or sitting.

This stage of scoliosis often demands multiple-level spinal fusion surgery. Luckily, most surgeries for severe scoliosis are now minimally invasive and do not require the patient to undergo the stress of open surgery treatment. Quick intervention for severe scoliosis can relieve the patient’s pain and decrease their risk for further health complications like digestive disorders. In the long term, it will also help them overcome the low self-esteem and social anxiety issues that often come with the condition.

Notes on Getting Treatment for Scoliosis

Whether the case involves mild, moderate, or severe scoliosis, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are the keys to preserving a patient’s health. Timely treatment will give the patient a fighting chance against further health complications, and it will also bring them closer to the quality of life they want and need.

Don’t hesitate to book a check-up with a physician if you suspect that you or one of your loved ones has scoliosis. You will find a variety of affordable, high-quality options for scoliosis care in Singapore.



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