What Is Scoliosis?

We all have a slight curve in our spine. But when you’re looking at your child’s spine, it should generally look straight.

With scoliosis, there’s a “sideways” curve in the spine—like an “S” or “C” shape. It can happen when a child is young, but it’s most likely to occur between ages 10 and 12 or in the early teens, when your child is growing fast.

Mild curves that don’t need treatment are more common in kids than larger curves that do. But if the child is having a growth spurt, a curve can become more pronounced, which may lead a care provider to recommend treatment before it grows worse.

For reasons that aren’t known, girls are more likely than boys to develop scoliosis, and they’re also more likely than boys to develop significant curves that need treatment.

If your child has scoliosis, care providers will generally classify the curve in one of two ways:

  • Nonstructural: The spine is structured normally, and the abnormal curve is flexible or temporary.
  • Structural: The abnormal curve is less flexible, and may be caused by a birth defect, injury, disease, or infection.


The Known—And Unknown—Causes Of Scoliosis

You let your child slouch at dinner. You let them carry that heavy backpack all the time. Now they’ve been diagnosed with scoliosis, and you’re wondering if you’re partly to blame.

If you’re having thoughts like these—stop, and put them aside. By far, most cases of scoliosis have no known cause.

This condition appears in thousands of children from a variety of backgrounds, and poor posture or heavy backpacks aren’t the common denominators that unite them all.

Some children are born with scoliosis. This is called congenital or infantile scoliosis, and it can change as a child grows. For some kids, the curve becomes straighter on its own. For others, the curve becomes more pronounced, and treatment is needed.

Other kids develop scoliosis because of another health condition—such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. These issues can cause weakness or imbalance in the spinal muscles, which raises the risk of developing a curved spine.

But most of the time, the cause of a child’s scoliosis is unknown.

However, we do know that scoliosis can run in families. So, if one of your children has scoliosis, it’s a good idea to have their siblings screened for it, as well.

If your child is diagnosed with scoliosis, there are several different treatment options, depending on how severe the curve is and whether your child has finished growing.


Subtle And Not-So-Subtle Symptoms Of Scoliosis In Children

While a screening at your child’s school or pediatrician’s office is usually the starting point for a scoliosis diagnosis, there are symptoms you can look for at home, such as:

  • Tilted or uneven shoulders—may make clothing appear crooked
  • One shoulder blade jutting out more than the other
  • Ribs sticking out more prominently on one side compared to the other
  • Uneven waistline or hip bones—can make pant legs appear uneven