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What Is Scoliosis? 

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine toward either the left or the right side of the body. It occurs most often just before puberty, but can present in younger children or adults. Because scoliosis sometimes runs in families, it is believed to have a possible genetic component, but most of the time its cause is unknown. 

Spinal Anatomy 

A healthy spine when seen from the side has three curves. Two of those curves—at the upper (cervical) spine and lower (lumbar) spine—dip in toward the front of the body and are called lordosis. The curve at the mid-spine, also known as the thoracic spine, bows out and is called kyphosis. 

Despite these normal curves, a healthy spine from front to back is generally a straight line from top to bottom, with each vertebra stacked one atop the other. Not so with scoliosis. The spine of someone with scoliosis juts out to either the right or the left, and can be an “S” or “C” shape. 


Scoliosis can usually is not, painful or life-limiting. Its symptoms usually relate to unevenness, such as: 

  • An uneven waist 

  • One hip that is higher than the other 

  • Uneven shoulders, or one shoulder blade sticking out more than the other 

Scoliosis may cause the spine to twist in addition to stick out to the side. This can cause one side of the ribs to be farther forward than the other. Other, potentially serious consequences of severe scoliosis include: 

  • Breathing problems 

  • Heart trouble 

  • Nerve symptoms 

  • Severe and chronic back pain 

Causes and Risk Factors 

The most common type of scoliosis is one where the cause is unknown. This is called idiopathic scoliosis and accounts for 80 to 85 percent of all scoliosis cases. Researchers believe scoliosis has a genetic component, so people with scoliosis may—but not necessarily will—have other family members with the condition. 

There are two other types of scoliosis. Congenital scoliosis is present at birth, and neuromuscular scoliosis is the result of a condition that affects the brain, nerves and/or muscles, such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or spina bifida. 

Risk factors for developing scoliosis include: 

  • Age: Scoliosis usually presents during the growth spurt that occurs right before puberty 

  • Family history: Scoliosis can sometimes run in families 

  • Sex: Girls are more prone to scoliosis than boys 


Doctors will usually start with a medical history and a physical examination to check for spinal abnormalities. X-rays can also help diagnose the condition and measure the magnitude of scoliosis. 


Mild scoliosis that doesn’t cause problems in everyday life usually needs no treatment, but is usually followed until growth is finished. However, if the scoliosis makes it difficult for a child to do everyday activities, treatment may be necessary. 

Scoliosis is usually treated in one of two ways, based on the magnitude of the curve. The first is a back brace. It is snug-fitting, unobtrusive and should be worn for as many hours as possible every day. It is designed to slow down the abnormal bone growth. A back brace will not cure scoliosis, but it may prevent the condition from worsening. 

The second option is surgery, the most common form of which is spinal fusion. In spinal fusion, multiple vertebrae are connected with rods, hooks, screws or wires so that they cannot move independently. This will prevent the spine from bending farther and the scoliosis from worsening. 


If you are concerned about your own or your child’s scoliosis and want to discuss the treatment options, follow the link below and answer a few short questions. Someone will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for choosing Summit Health. 

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