Merck Manual

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Last full review/revision Oct 2019| Content last modified Oct 2019
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Topic Resources

What is scoliosis?

  • Scoliosis is an abnormal curve in the spine

  • Babies can be born with scoliosis, or it can develop in children between ages 10 and 16

  • Scoliosis can make your child’s shoulders and hips uneven

What causes scoliosis?

Usually, a cause can't be found. Sometimes, scoliosis is caused by a birth defect.

What are the symptoms of scoliosis?

Mild scoliosis usually has no symptoms. But sometimes children have:

  • One shoulder higher than the other

  • One hip higher than the other causing an uneven waist

  • Mild to severe back pain

Severe scoliosis can cause:

  • Constant pain

  • Difficulty breathing, if the rib cage presses on the lungs

  • Damage to internal organs

How can doctors tell if my child has scoliosis?

  • The doctor will ask your child to bend forward to see if the spine is curved

  • If your child's spine looks like it curves, your doctor will take x-rays to confirm scoliosis

  • X-rays help your doctor measure how severe the curve is

How do doctors treat scoliosis?

Treatments depend on how severe the curve is.

A small curve may not need treatment. But doctors will check it regularly to see if it gets worse.

In more severe cases, treatment should be started as early as possible and may include:

  • A brace to try to keep the spine straight

  • Physical therapy to keep scoliosis from getting worse

  • Surgery to join backbones together

Your child may feel badly about having scoliosis or be upset about the treatment. Talking to a professional counselor may help your child feel better.

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