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Scoliosis is a condition characterized by curvature of the spine. The most common form of scoliosis, called idiopathic scoliosis, occurs in otherwise healthy children. Although some cases run in families and may have a genetic basis, most cases have no known cause.
Idiopathic scoliosis starts in the early adolescent years, around ages 10-11. Initially, most cases are mild, often undetectable, because changes in the appearance of the back develop gradually and cause no pain. However, some curves can get worse during the adolescent growth spurt and may lead to problems later on. If a curve worsens, the spine begins to rotate, causing the body and ribs to protrude farther out on one side. Without treatment, severe scoliosis visibly affects the body's appearance, and in some cases may cause pain or affect lung function by reducing available space in the chest for breathing.
Once even a mild curve is detected, it is important to have a doctor monitor your child’s spine. Fortunately, the vast majority of scoliosis curves are mild and may never need treatment. Some curves may be treated temporarily with a thin plastic brace, which stabilizes the curve and prevents it from getting worse during periods of growth. Rarely, severe curves may require surgery to correct the curvature and prevent future problems. Children with scoliosis should be seen by a pediatric orthopaedist about every four to six months during periods of growth.
David Roberts, MD, is a Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon at NorthShore who specializes in scoliosis. He shares some the early signs of scoliosis that parents should look out for in their children:
Some symptoms can be subtle, so see a physician if there is any question.
Are your children screened for scoliosis in their schools?