Frequently Asked Questions
Find answers to common questions about scoliosis.
Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine. When a healthy spine is viewed from the back, it appears to be straight. However, patients with scoliosis have curves that look like a “C” (one curve) or an “S” (two curves) when viewed on an X-ray.
There are four primary types of pediatric scoliosis: idiopathic, congenital, neuromuscular, and syndromic. Depending on the age it is diagnosed, scoliosis may be referred to as early-onset scoliosis (EOS) – scoliosis diagnosed in patients under 10 years of age, or adolescent scoliosis – scoliosis diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 18.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) is the most common type of scoliosis. The term “idiopathic” means the cause is unknown.
There is ongoing research into the potential causes of scoliosis, which include genetics, soft tissue disorders, and abnormalities in the central nervous system.
Approximately 30% of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients have a family history of scoliosis.
Scoliosis is the most common condition of the spine in pediatric patients. Approximately 2%-3% of the population is diagnosed with scoliosis. In the U.S. an estimated 7 million people of all ages have scoliosis.
For many patients, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is a painless condition. Larger curves, or curves that continue to progress, may cause pain, limit certain body functions, or cause breathing discomfort.
There are, however, several warning signs a healthcare professional uses to help determine if a patient has scoliosis. The most common signs of scoliosis include:
- Uneven shoulders and/or shoulder blades
- Uneven hips and waist
- Appearance of leaning
- Head not centered over the body
- Rib prominence presenting on one side of the spine that is most noticeable when bending forward
The diagnosis typically begins with a complete history followed by a thorough physical examination. A healthcare professional examines the spine and looks for any signs of scoliosis.
X-rays may be taken in order to evaluate any tilt or rotation of the vertebrae causing a curvature. X-rays allow the doctor to confirm the diagnosis, monitor the degree and severity of the curve, and assess the patient’s skeletal maturity.
The most common treatment option is observation to ensure the curve does not progress. In the event the curve is progressing, treatments designed to halt the progression of the curve such as bracing or casting are used. Surgery to correct the curve may be warranted when the condition worsens and/or causes severe pain or other complications.
National Scoliosis Foundation. Information and support cited 28 Aug 2019. Available online at http://www.scoliosis.org/info.php