Overview of Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a sideways curve of the spine. Everyone has normal curves in the spine, and when looked at from behind, the spine appears straight. However, children and teens with scoliosis have an abnormal S-shaped or C-shaped curve of the spine. The curve can happen on either side of the spine and in different places in the spine. In most people, the cause of scoliosis is unknown.

For most children and teens, the cause of scoliosis is idiopathic. This means researchers and doctors do not know the cause. However, they think that a combination of factors plays a role in the development of the disease.

Doctors diagnose scoliosis by examining your child or teen and taking x-rays. This helps doctors develop a treatment plan, which depends on the location and severity of the curve. Children and teens with milder curves may just need to visit their doctor for regular check-ups. Others may require bracing or surgery.

With treatment, observation, and follow-up with the doctor, most children and teens have normal, active lives.

Who Gets Scoliosis?

Anyone can get scoliosis. However, idiopathic scoliosis, which is the most common type, usually occurs in children age 11 and older. Girls are more likely than boys to have this type of scoliosis. You are more likely to have scoliosis if your parent, brother, or sister has it.

Symptoms of Scoliosis

Most children and teens with mild scoliosis do not have symptoms or pain. Sometimes, the child, teen, or a family member may notice changes in posture, which may be a sign of scoliosis. Other signs may include the following.

  • Top of shoulders are uneven.
  • One shoulder blade (in the upper back) is more prominent or visible than the other.
  • One hip appears higher than the other.
  • One side of the rib cage is higher than the other when bending forward.
  • If the scoliosis is progressing and the curve is more severe, the changes in the shape of the spine can lead to back pain. If the curve is severe, rarely, some children may develop difficulty breathing.

Causes of Scoliosis

In most cases, the cause of scoliosis is idiopathic (unknown). Researchers continue to study possible causes for idiopathic scoliosis and think that a combination of several factors may lead to the disorder. These include:

  • Genes.
  • Hormones.
  • Changes in cell structure.

For some children, scoliosis happens when another disease or disorder, or trauma causes the curving spine. These include:

  • Congenital factors, which happen during the development of the spine when the baby is in the womb, leading to a curve in the spine.
  • Genetic diseases, which happen when changes occur in one or more genes.
  • Injury to the spine, usually from trauma to the spine or back.
  • Neuromuscular diseases, which affect the nerves that send messages to muscles, leading to muscle weakness and loss.
  • Tumor, which can cause physical changes to the spine.