Savita Kapoor (name changed on request), a Delhi-based architect, did not take the pigmented and hairy patch at the lower back of her son seriously. She thought it was a birth mark, until on his 12th birthday last year, a family friend noticed that his back tilted more towards the right.
"We had not really noticed the unusual posture before. It seemed like a minor lean, but we still took him to a doctor who asked to get an X-ray done," said Kapoor.
The X-ray showed the boy's spine took the shape of the English alphabet 'S'. He was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition that causes abnormal curving of the spine. The patch on his back is one of the known symptoms of this condition.
Everyone's spine has natural curves. The curves round the shoulders make the lower back curve slightly inward. But some people have spines that also curve from side to side.
"The condition of side-to-side spinal curves, due to which the spine takes the shape of an 'S', or a 'C' is called scoliosis. There is no permanent cure for it, but the symptoms can be controlled with treatment that includes surgery, depending on the severity of the condition," said Dr Aditya Gupta, senior consultant, department of neurosurgery, Medanta Hospital.
In more than 80% of the cases, there is no specific cause of the disease. Such cases are termed idiopathic or of undetermined cause. This is particularly true among the type of scoliosis seen in adolescent girls.
"For the rest, the cause of spinal deformity could either be congenital, where only the half of vertebrae is formed, or some neurological disorder such as water in the spine, tumour within the spinal cord etc. There could be muscular weakness due to which the back bends towards a particular side, and in some, the cause may be genetic," said Dr P Sarat Chandra, associate professor, department of neurosurgery, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
The disease is more common in girls than boys. It can be seen at any age, but it is most common in children between 4 years and 17 years.
The change in the curve of the spine typically occurs very slowly so it is easy to miss until it becomes more severe. "If scoliosis is not detected early and treated, it can make it more difficult for the heart and lungs to work properly," said Dr HS Chhabra, spine specialist, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.
The earlier the condition is detected, better is the outcome of treatment.