University of Leicester archaeologists today (12 September) announced the discovery of an adult male skeleton suffering from scoliosis, which they believe may be the remains of Richard III.
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine, where the spine curves either to the left or to the right of the body. As this is usually a double curve, the neck and head remain in their usual central position. In a living person, the signs of scoliosis vary depending on the severity. These may include having one shoulder higher than the other, one shoulder blade higher and more prominent than the other, one hip more prominent than the other, or a slight lean to one side.
The most common areas to be affected by scoliosis are the chest area (thoracic scoliosis), and the lower part of the back (lumbar scoliosis).
How is this detected in skeletal remains?
If the spine is complete and well preserved, scoliosis can be detected fairly easily. Signs include wedge-shaped vertebrae at the apex of the curve, asymmetry of the neural arch and vertebral processes, horizontal torsion of the vertebral body, and skewed spinous processes (the parts of bone closest to your skin). The transverse processes in the lumbar spine may also be short and plump on the convex side, and long, slender and pointed on the concave side.
As the ribs are attached to the spine, changes in their shape and curvature is also common.
A debilitating condition?
The amount scoliosis would affect a person generally depends on the severity of the condition. Usually the only sign is back pain, other than the physical changes in appearance, and therefore wouldn’t affect day-to-day life.
In the UK today, scoliosis affects around 3-4 children in every 1,000, but in 90% of cases no treatment is ever needed. One particularly notable person with scoliosis today is Usain Bolt, which shows that it doesn’t necessarily affect a person’s movements at all.
Other famous people with scoliosis include:
Richard III – not a hunchback
The University of Leicester archaeologists have made clear that the remains thought to be Richard III did not have a condition known as kyphosis. This is the curving of the spine that would have caused a bowing or rounding of the back, causing a hunchback appearance. Generally speaking, kyphosis is a forward curvature of the spine, whereas scoliosis is a curve from side to side and doesn’t result in a hump.
Watch this space – full story on the discovery in CA 272!
Click here to read more about the Greyfriars excavation where the remains were found.
Click here to read more about the discovery of the burial.
Click here for more information on battle wounds identified on the remains.
Click here to find out about how the DNA analysis worked.
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