Pediatric HealthSource: Scoliosis

Walter Samora, MD
Walter Samora

Q: My kids go through a scoliosis screening every year. All the students line up at the nurse's office for a quick exam. What exactly is scoliosis?

A: Scoliosis is a C- or S-shaped curve in the spine that is greater than 10 degrees. These days, it is a relatively common condition: Curves in the spine of this magnitude are seen in about 3 percent of the population.

Symptoms of scoliosis include a child who appears to have uneven shoulders or shoulder blades, an uneven waist or appears to be leaning to the side when standing straight.

Typically, scoliosis does not cause back pain, but for a small number of children, severe spinal curves can cause discomfort and can lead to other health problems, possibly affecting the lungs, heart and joints. Infrequently, dramatic curves in the spine may require treatment such as a back brace or surgery.

Scoliosis can develop in children from birth to adolescence, or any time when the spine and skeleton are experiencing a rapid growth period. Mild scoliosis impacts an equal number of boys and girls, however girls are more likely to develop progressive spinal curvature that requires more aggressive treatment. While the condition cannot be prevented, early diagnosis can lead to early treatment, which may reduce the curve in a child's spine.

Always consult your child's pediatrician concerning your child's health.

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Walter Samora, MD, is director of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Residency Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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Coping with the Condition

It's important for parents to know that scoliosis is not a limiting condition. To make sure children continue to live their fullest lives, parents should:

Maintain normalcy – Children with scoliosis can and always should maintain a normal lifestyle and regular routine, staying active with friends, family, school and sports.

Ask for clarification – Spinal asymmetry—a spinal curve with less than a 10-degree bend—is commonly misidentified by parents as scoliosis, and generally does not require treatment. If you think your child has scoliosis, be sure to seek an official diagnosis.

Don't place blame – There is currently no known cause of scoliosis, though it does run in families. Neither bad posture nor heavy backpacks contribute to the development of scoliosis.