Idiopathic Scoliosis in Children

Scoliosis (skoh-lee-oh-sis) is an abnormal, side-to-side curve of the spine.  Scoliosis should not be confused with poor posture.  The word idiopathic (id-ee-uh-path-ik) means that there is no known reason for the curve in the spine. The condition is not rare. It is most common in girls between the ages of 10 to 18 − many of whom have such mild forms that they are not aware of it or treated for it. There are three types of idiopathic scoliosis:

The spine of someone with scoliosis has an abnormal side-to-side “S-” or “C”-shaped curve. The degree of curve can vary greatly from person to person. Scoliosis involves rotation or twisting and pulling of the ribs along with the spine to form a three-dimensional curve.

Idiopathic scoliosis.Most common symptoms of idiopathic scoliosis include:

  • One shoulder higher or lower than the other
  • Head is not centered with the rest of the body
  • Hips are not the same height
  • Shoulder blades are uneven
  • When standing straight, a difference in the way the arms hang beside the body
  • When bending forward, the sides of the back differ in height
  • Clothing does not hang straight
  • Back pain (rare, but if present, contact the Crawford Spine Center)
The term “idiopathic” means that the cause is not known. 

Successful treatment and the best long-term results depend on an early diagnosis. A team of experts will:

  • Review your child’s medical history
  • Perform a physical exam 
  • Look at your child’s spine
  • Measure the degree of curve in the spine by using X-rays
  • Perform other tests as needed to provide more information and see if there are any problems with your child’s bones

Scoliosis treatment depends on the size and severity of the curve. For smaller or moderate size curves, treatment may include:

  • Watching the curve for changes
  • Wearing a brace to prevent curve progression

The doctor may consider surgery for more severe curves that reach a point where the curve will continue to worsen even after a person has stopped growing.

The long-term outcome depends on the size of the curve.

People with small to moderate curves tend to do well. There may be a slight increase in back pain in persons with moderate curves in their lower back.

Larger curves require surgical treatment. The long-term outcome for people with larger curves is excellent following surgery. 

Last Updated 04/2020

Reviewed by Peter Sturm, MD, MBA

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