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 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.
You may need surgery if the spine curve is severe or getting worse very quickly.
Surgery involves correcting the curve as much as possible:
Surgery is done with a cut through the back, belly area, or beneath the ribs.
The spine bones are held in place with 1 or 2 metal rods. The rods are held down with hooks and screws until the bone heals together.
After surgery, you may need to wear a brace for a while to keep the spine still.
Scoliosis treatment may also include:
Emotional support: Some children, especially teens, may be self-conscious when using a back brace.
Physical therapy and other specialists to help explain the treatments and make sure the brace fits correctly.
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 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.
Mistovich RJ, Spiegel DA. The spine. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW III, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 679.
Thomas MA, Therattil M. Scoliosis and kyphosis. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 152.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.