Scoliosis is an abnormal curving of the spine. Your spine is your backbone. It runs straight down your back. Everyone’s spine naturally curves a bit. But people with scoliosis have a spine that curves too much. The spine might look like the letter C or S.
Most people with idiopathic scoliosis do not need treatment. But you should still be checked by a doctor about every 6 months.
If you are still growing, your doctor might recommend a back brace. A back brace prevents further curving. There are many different types of braces. What kind you get depends on the size and location of your curve. Your health care provider will pick the best one for you and show you how to use it. Back braces can be adjusted as you grow.
Back braces work best in people over age 10. Braces do not work for those with congenital or neuromuscular scoliosis.
How well a person with scoliosis does depends on the type, cause, and severity of the curve. The more severe the curving, the more likely it will get worse after the child stops growing.
People with mild scoliosis do well with braces. They usually do not have long-term problems. Back pain may be more likely when the person gets older.
Outlook for those with neuromuscular or congenital scoliosis varies. They may have another serious disorder such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, so their goals are much different. Often the goal of surgery is simply to allow a child to be able to sit upright in a wheelchair.
Congenital scoliosis is difficult to treat and usually requires many surgeries.
Complications of scoliosis can include:
Breathing problems (in severe scoliosis)
Low back pain
Persistent pain if there is wear and tear of the spine bones
Spinal infection after surgery
Spine or nerve damage from an uncorrected curve or spinal surgery
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you suspect your child may have scoliosis.
Routine scoliosis screening is now done in middle schools.
Such screening has helped detect early scoliosis in many children.
Thomas MA, Wang Y. Scoliosis and kyphosis. In: Frontera, WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 143.
Warner WC, Sawyer JR, Kelly DM. Scoliosis and kyphosis. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell’s Operative Orthopaedics. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 41.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.