What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a spinal condition that is characterized by an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine. Patients who have scoliosis have a spine that looks like a “c” or an “s”.

Approximately 1 percent of the population (2 percent of female sand 1 percent of males) in the United States suffer from scoliosis. Most cases are mild, only 10 percent of children will require more advanced treatment, including bracing or surgery.

Common related conditions
Kyphosis (Hunchback)

Causes of scoliosis

The exact cause of more than 80 percent of scoliosis cases is unknown. This is called idiopathic scoliosis, including variations of infantile (under 3 years old), juvenile (ages 3-10) and adolescent (10 years and older).

Other forms of scoliosis and their causes include:

  • Functional — develops from conditions in other parts of the body, such as having a leg longer than the other

  • Neuromuscular — a congenital form of scoliosis that occurs during fetal development 

  • Degenerative — develops as a result of spondylosis in older adults

Risk factors for scoliosis

Factors that increase the chance of scoliosis include:

  • Age — children between the age of 9 and 15 are most likely to develop scoliosis
  • Gender — girls are more likely to develop scoliosis than boys
  • Family history — parents who had scoliosis are more likely to have children who develop scoliosis

Symptoms of scoliosis

The main sign of scoliosis is a curvature in the spine. Other signs of scoliosis include:

  • A hip that is higher than the other 
  • One shoulder blade more prominent than the other
  • Uneven waist or shoulders

Diagnosis for scoliosis

Scoliosis is diagnosed in a physical exam with your primary care doctor or spine specialist. During a physical exam, your doctor will take a full medical history, perform a full physical and neurological exam, evaluate your symptoms and order diagnostic testing such as:

  • X-rays
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
  • CT (computed tomography) scan

Treatment for scoliosis

There is no cure for scoliosis, but symptoms can be managed and/or reduced with treatment. Treatment for scoliosis will depend on the severity of your condition.

Treatments may include:

Many children will not need to be treated for scoliosis. Your child’s doctor may recommend periodic x-rays to evaluate the progression of the condition. If the curvature is correcting itself during growth, no treatment is necessary.

Back braces
If your child has moderate scoliosis and his or her bones are still growing, your doctor may recommend wearing a back brace. Although a brace won’t reverse the severity of the curve, it can prevent further progression of the condition. Back braces for more severe cases are most effective when worn all the time (day and night). Children with a milder case can wear them only at night. Braces will be discontinued after a child’s bones stop growing. 

Spinal Surgery 
Children who have severe scoliosis may need surgery to reduce the severity of the curve and/or to prevent it from worsening. Mercy Health spine surgeons typically recommend spinal fusion for children who need surgery for scoliosis. During a spinal fusion procedure, a spine surgeon will fuse the vertebrae together. After a spinal fusion, the bones of the spine that have been fused can’t move independently.

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