Scoliosis is the abnormal curvature of the spine to the sides.

It does not usually cause noticeable symptoms in children other than affecting the appearance of the back.

Physical signs of scoliosis may include:

  • a visibly curved spine
  • one shoulder or hip being more prominent than the other
  • clothes not hanging properly
  • a tendency to lean to one side

Usually only adults with scoliosis experience back pain.

Read more about the symptoms of scoliosis.

Seeking medical advice

If you or your child shows physical signs of scoliosis, you should make an appointment to see your GP.

Your GP can carry out a physical examination of your back, but you may be referred for an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.

Read more about diagnosing scoliosis.

Why does scoliosis happen?

The cause of scoliosis is often not identified. This is known as idiopathic scoliosis and accounts for about 8 out of every 10 cases.

Some cases of scoliosis are caused by other medical conditions, including:

  • cerebral palsy – a condition caused by brain damage that occurs during birth or shortly afterwards
  • muscular dystrophy – a genetic condition that causes muscle weakness 
  • Marfan syndrome – a disorder of the connective tissues

In rare cases, scoliosis can be present from birth, due to a problem with the development of the spine in the womb.

In adults, the condition can be the result of damage to the spine or due to previously undiagnosed scoliosis that worsens over time.

Read more about the causes of scoliosis.

Who is affected?

It used to be thought that scoliosis was a childhood condition. However, it is now recognised as a condition that increasingly affects older adults. This is most likely due to the increasing age of the population.

In the UK, scoliosis affects 3 or 4 children out of every 1,000. It can develop at any age, but is more common at the start of adolescence.

It is thought that as many as 7 out of 10 older adults aged 65 or over have some degree of scoliosis.

Scoliosis is more common in females than males.

How is scoliosis treated?

Treatment is not always necessary for very young children with scoliosis because the condition often corrects itself as the child grows.

However, in older children and adults, it is unlikely that scoliosis will improve without treatment and in some cases the curvature may get progressively worse.

If treatment is necessary, a scoliosis specialist will discuss the different options available. In children needing treatment, the main options are:

  • wearing a back brace worn until the child stops growing, which may help prevent the spine from curving further
  • surgery to correct the curvature - where the spine is straightened using correctional rods attached with screws, hooks, and wires

In adults, treatment primarily aims to relieve any pain. Non-surgical options, such as painkillers, are the first line of treatment, with correctional surgery seen as a last resort.

Read more about treating scoliosis in children and treating scoliosis in adults.

Further problems

Scoliosis can sometimes cause further emotional and physical problems.

Having a visibly curved spine or wearing a back brace can cause problems related to body image, self-esteem and overall quality of life. This is particularly the case for children and teenagers with scoliosis.

In rare cases, the curvature of the spine can put increased pressure on the heart and lungs.

Read more about the possible complications of scoliosis.

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