Scoliosis in children: Overview
A normal spine—which is the line of bones going down your back—is usually straight or slightly curved. In scoliosis, the spine curves from side to side, often in an S or C shape. It may also be twisted. Scoliosis can affect adults, but it usually is found in children, especially girls between the ages of 10 and 16. Scoliosis can limit your child’s growth. In very bad cases, your child’s lungs may not be able to hold enough air. That can cause the heart to work harder to pump blood.
Young people who have scoliosis usually do not have symptoms, but some may have back pain.
If your child has mild scoliosis, he or she may need only to see a doctor every 4 to 6 months to make sure the curve is not getting worse. A child who has moderate scoliosis may need a brace. A brace usually stops the curve from getting worse, but it is not able to correct or straighten the spine. Scoliosis that is very bad may need surgery. Scoliosis and its treatment can be hard on a child. He or she may be embarrassed by wearing a brace. Think about taking your child to a scoliosis clinic, where other children are being treated. It may help your child cope with the condition.
Scoliosis is an abnormal curve in the spine. The spine curves from side to side in an "S" or "C" shape rather than being straight. The spine also may be twisted.
How is scoliosis in children and teens treated?
The goal of treatment for scoliosis is to prevent the spinal curve from getting worse and to correct or stabilize a severe spinal curve. Most cases of scoliosis are mild and don't need treatment.
The type of treatment depends on the cause of scoliosis. Scoliosis that's caused by another condition is called nonstructural scoliosis. It usually improves when the condition, such as muscle spasms or a difference in leg length, is treated. Scoliosis that's caused by a disease or by an unknown problem is called structural scoliosis. It's more likely than nonstructural scoliosis to need treatment.
Your child may have:
- Nonsurgical treatment.
This includes routine exams by a doctor to check to see if the curve is getting worse. It also includes the use of a brace to stop a spinal curve from getting worse. Children often have these checkups about every 4 to 6 months.
For back pain with scoliosis, some people may use nonprescription medicines such as naproxen or ibuprofen to treat the pain.
- Surgical treatment.
Surgery can usually decrease the curve and stabilize the spine so the curve doesn't get worse.
Treatment is based on the child's age, the size of the curve, and the risk of the curve getting worse (progression). The risk of progression is based on age at diagnosis, the size of the curve (as measured using X-rays of the spine), and skeletal age.
- Mild curves are usually checked by the doctor every 4 to 6 months until the bones stop growing. This is to make sure that the curves aren't getting worse.
- Moderate curves may need to be braced until the bones stop growing. The brace can keep the curves from getting worse.
- Severe curves or moderate curves that are getting worse may need surgery.
Experts don't agree on the timing of surgery for scoliosis in children. Spinal fusion stops the growth of the fused part of the spine, so some experts believe that surgery should be delayed until the child is at least 10 years old (and preferably 12). But even after surgery, the rest of the spine will grow normally in children who are still growing.
There is no evidence that corrective exercises, electrical stimulation, or spinal manipulation are effective treatments for scoliosis.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.