Global Spine Outreach

Transforming Children with Complex Spinal Deformities Around the World!

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What is Scoliosis


Scoliosis is an abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine that can have an “S” or “C” shaped appearance. The spine may also take on a multi-dimensional curvature as it twists or rotates pulling the ribs along with it.

This curvature may be noticed by appearance or examination by a health care provider, but can be diagnosed on an x-ray. After diagnosis, physicians can use tools to measure the curve. The Scoliosis Research Society defines scoliosis as a curvature of the spine measuring more than 10 degrees or greater on x-ray.

Often times scoliosis presents a cosmetic challenge more than a health risk. Children, teens or young adults with mild scoliosis may not experience pain or other symptoms. In more severe cases in which the spine is greatly curved, the internal organs may be put at risk. Surgery is often required in this case.

There are 3 main types of scoliosis and each form has varying treatments:

Idiopathic scoliosis

is the most common form, with no definite cause. It mainly affects adolescent girls but also appears in infants and juveniles.

Neuromuscular scoliosis

is associated with a neuro- muscular condition such as cerebral palsy, myopathy or spina bifida.

Congenital scoliosis

the least common form, is present at birth and is caused by a failure of the vertebrae to form normally.

Who is Affected by Scoliosis

Three to five children out of every 1,000 develop spinal curves that are considered large enough to require treatment. Adolescent girls are eight to ten times more likely to develop a scoliosis that requires treatment than boys.

Risk factors for developing idiopathic scoliosis include:

  • Age: With the onset of puberty, signs and symptoms of scoliosis may begin to manifest themselves. During a maximum growth spurt, the spine experiences rapid growth. Adolescents with scoliosis are often diagnosed during this time period.
  • Gender: Girls are eight to ten times more likely than boys to develop scoliosis that requires active treatment.
  • Heredity: Idiopathic scoliosis tends to run in families.

In most cases, there is no definite cause or way to prevent the spine’s failure to grow as straight as it should. Scoliosis is a spinal abnormality—it’s neither a cause nor a result of poor posture or use of a backpack.

Signs and Symptoms of Scoliosis

Because there are many types of scoliosis, the abnormal curve of the spine can appear differently in each individual affected.

Signs of Scoliosis

Screening by a health care provider can reveal many common signs and symptoms of scoliosis.

  • Uneven shoulder heights
  • Head not centered with the rest of the body
  • Uneven hip heights or positions
  • Uneven shoulder blade heights or positions
  • One shoulder blade that is more prominent than another
  • When bending forward, the left and right sides of the back are not even

How is Scoliosis Treated

Correct diagnosis leads to correct treatment. The first step in diagnosis is a history and physical exam by your health care provider. Following a thorough exam, your provider may order a variety of diagnostic tests including x-ray, MRI or CT Scan to assess the scoliosis.

Once the diagnosis of scoliosis has been made, it will determine if treatment should be with or without surgery.

Treatment Options without Surgery:

  • Observation and Monitoring
  • Physical Therapy
  • Bracing
  • Casting

Treatment Options with Surgery:

  • Spinal Fusion – This is the most common surgical treatment in adolescents with scoliosis. The curve is straightened and fused. Spinal implants not only correct the scoliosis, but also prevent the bones from developing any further curvature.
  • Growth friendly surgery – This is utilized in patients with early onset scoliosis (children under 10 years old that are still growing). These spinal implants control the abnormal curvature while allowing spinal growth to continue until the child is ready for a spinal fusion.

There are several other surgical interventions, each of which can be explored with the expertise of a spine surgery specialist.