Scoliosis Information for Parents

Your spine has natural curves that round the shoulders and make the lower back curve slightly inward. Approximately two to three percent of people also have side-to-side spinal curves that make the spine look more like an “s” or “c” rather than an “l”. This condition is called scoliosis.

The most common form of scoliosis is called idiopathic scoliosis. It has no known cause, but is linked to heredity since it tends to run in families. Girls are more likely than boys to develop this type of spinal curvature. Other kinds of scoliosis include congenital scoliosis, which is present at birth, and neuromuscular scoliosis, which is caused by nervous system problems that affect the muscles, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or spina bifida.

Signs or Symptoms of Scoliosis

Scoliosis can develop in infancy or early childhood. However, signs of scoliosis usually start to appear primarily in children between the ages of 10 and 15, or during the growth spurt that happens right before puberty. Symptoms of the condition may include:

  • Uneven hips or shoulders
  • Head is not centered directly above the pelvis
  • Spine curving more to one side
  • Ribs that are pushed out
  • Rib cages are at different heights
  • One shoulder blade that looks more prominent compared to the other
  • The entire body leans to one side
  • Backache or lower back pain

Severe scoliosis can cause heart and lung problems due to pressure from the rib cage that makes it more difficult to breathe and harder for the heart to pump.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Scoliosis

Scoliosis is diagnosed following a medical history review, physical exam, and X-ray of the spine. Treatment for the condition will depend on:

  • The cause of scoliosis
  • Where the curve occurs on the spine
  • Degree of spine curvature
  • If the child’s body is still growing

Most cases of scoliosis do not require treatment. Regular checkups are recommended, however, to make sure the curve does not become larger.

A measurement of the degree of spinal curvature, called the Cobb angle, may be used to help the doctor determine what kind of treatment is necessary. In general, a curve of 10 to 15 degrees requires only regular checkups; curvature of 20 to 40 degrees suggests the need for a back brace; angles of 40 to 50 degrees may require surgery.

For optimal effectiveness, children who need to wear a back brace may need to do so for 16 to 23 hours every day until they stop growing. While experts disagree as to whether braces are truly effective, large studies indicate that when they are used with full compliance, they successfully stop curve progression in about 80 percent of children with scoliosis.

Surgery may be recommended when a child has a severe curve (45-50 degrees and higher). This procedure, called spinal fusion, involves inserting metal rods to correct the spine and hold it in place until the bones grow together. For more information about scoliosis, talk with your doctor or visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website at