Scoliosis is an unnatural sideways curve to the spine. When viewed from behind, the spine should look straight. Doctors believe that as many as half of all individuals have some degree of scoliosis. Scoliosis can range from mild to severe. Severe scoliosis can be very painful and may require corrective surgery.

What causes scoliosis?

Doctors aren't sure exactly what causes scoliosis, but theories range from congenital factors (the condition is present at birth), to hormones, to genetics, to a weakness in the connective tissues that support the spine. Some severe cases of scoliosis may be the result of cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.

Is scoliosis serious?

Severe scoliosis can be painful and may require surgery to correct. Mild to moderate scoliosis may not be noticeable and does not cause any discomfort. In the worst cases, the spine and rib cage can compress the heart and lungs. Some people with untreated scoliosis can have chronic back pain and arthritis of the spine.

Can I prevent scoliosis?

Making sure that your child remains active in sport and other athletics may help prevent scoliosis, but there's no guaranteed way to prevent it.

How do I know if my child has scoliosis?

Just before puberty, children experience a growth spurt. This is the time when the symptoms of scoliosis begin to develop. Watch for the following signs:

  • One shoulder tilted down towards a raised hip, as if the child is leaning sideways
  • Prominent ribs
  • A protruding shoulder blade
  • Tilted waist
  • Scoliosis is more pronounced when the child bends forward

How do I treat scoliosis?

Scoliosis is generally treated via one of two methods:

  • Braces to prevent further curvature of the spine and prevent severe scoliosis
  • Surgery is used in extreme cases to straighten the spine

Should I call the doctor?

Your doctor can use x-rays to diagnose scoliosis. Make an appointment if you notice an unusual curve to your child�s spine or if your child is complaining of discomfort.

What you need to know about scoliosis

  • Scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curve to the spine.
  • Girls are more likely to develop moderate to severe scoliosis.
  • Scoliosis is treated using braces and surgery.

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    Last revised: Wednesday, 20 January 2010

    This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.