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CARE

Your child may have scoliosis — now what?

Hearing the news that your child has scoliosis can leave you with anxious questions. Will your child need to wear a brace? Undergo surgery? Knowing the facts about scoliosis can help alleviate some of your concerns.  

First, scoliosis is more common than you may think, with three out of every 100 kids living with some form of it. For many of them, scoliosis doesn't have much impact on their day-to-day living.  

Depending on the cause of scoliosis, a small percentage of kids and teens may need treatment. The condition can be progressive and cause serious health problems in adulthood. Larger curves are associated with back pain, and very severe curves can affect breathing and heart function.  

Assessing the cause of the scoliosis and preventing curves from becoming large is the focus of the treatment. 

The earlier scoliosis is detected, the more treatment options are available, so if your child is diagnosed with scoliosis, the first step is to have him or her evaluated by an orthopedic or spine specialist.  

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a disorder that causes the spine to curve abnormally. A normal spine will appear straight when viewed directly from the back. By comparison, the spine of someone with scoliosis has a side-to-side bend. Most cases of scoliosis have no known cause (known as idiopathic scoliosis), and it's the most common form of the condition in children and teens. It's typically diagnosed in kids ages 8 to 16 and is more common in girls than boys. And no, kids don't develop scoliosis from carrying heavy backpacks, playing sports, sleeping on their side or slouching.  

What are some symptoms of scoliosis?

Signs to watch for include: 

  • clothes that don't fit right or an uneven hem line
  • a noticeable curve when a child is in a bathing suit
  • one shoulder, shoulder blade or hip out of alignment with the other
  • back pain

Have your child evaluated by a pediatrician or spine specialist if you notice these symptoms or have concerns about the curve of their spine.

What are options for treatment?

The right treatment depends on the severity of the curve and the child's age. 

  • Observation is a common approach for growing children with mild curves less than 25 degrees. Your specialist will closely monitor your child's spine to see if the curve is getting worse. Many times, treatment isn't necessary.  
  • Sometimes braces are used while a child is still growing and for moderate spine curves. When wearing the brace, children are still able to participate in their activities.
  • In certain cases, physical therapy is suggested.
  • Surgery is recommended only for more severe curves that continue to progress despite bracing. In most cases surgery can be avoided if treatment is started when the curve is small and the child is still growing.

School scoliosis screenings are not done as commonly as they once were. It's important that children and adolescents be evaluated for scoliosis at well-child visits, sports physicals and other medical examination opportunities.

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