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What is scoliosis?

A normal spine, when viewed from behind, appears straight. However, a spine affected by scoliosis shows a side-to-side curvature, with the spine looking like an "S" or "C." The back bones (vertebrae) may also be rotated. Scoliosis is not due to poor posture.
Spinal curvature from scoliosis may occur on the right, left or both sides of the spine. Both the mid (thoracic) and lower (lumbar) spine may be affected by scoliosis. The condition is most often seen in children between the ages of 10 and 18, and it affects girls more than boys. 

What causes scoliosis?

In most cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown — called idiopathic scoliosis. In other cases, scoliosis may develop as a result of breakdown of the spinal discs, as seen with arthritis, osteoporosis, or as a hereditary condition that runs in families.

What are the symptoms of scoliosis?

These are the most common symptoms of scoliosis:
•    Difference in shoulder height
•    The head isn't centered with the rest of the body
•    Difference in hip height or position
•    Difference in shoulder blade height or position
•    When standing straight, difference in the way the arms hang beside the body
•    When bending forward, the sides of the back appear different in height

The symptoms of scoliosis may look like other spinal conditions or deformities, or may be a result of an injury or infection. Always see your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is scoliosis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, X-rays are the main tool for diagnosing scoliosis. 

Saint Peter’s University Hospital is the only hospital in the state to offer low-dose, full-body imaging for pediatric and adult patients. Developed by the pioneer of 2D and 3D orthopedic medical imaging, the EOS® System technology makes it possible to capture detailed multidimensional front and side view images of the body at the same time. Using the two, full-body images, 3D models of the skeleton are created. 

In establishing a diagnosis of scoliosis, the doctor measures the degree of spinal curvature on the X-ray.

Early detection of scoliosis is most important for successful treatment.

How is scoliosis treated?

The goal of treatment is to stop the progression of the curve and prevent deformity. Treatment may include:

  • Observation and repeated exams. This may be needed to determine if the spine is continuing to curve, and are used when a person has a curve less than 25° and is still growing.
  • Bracing. The type of brace and the amount of time spent in the brace will depend on the severity of the condition.
  • Surgery. Surgery may be recommended when the curve measures 45° or more on an X-ray and bracing isn't successful in slowing down the progression of the curve when a person is still growing. Surgeons have pioneered anterior scoliosis correction surgery at Saint  Peter’s, particularly for the treatment of scoliosis in adolescents. 

For more information about scoliosis, visit the Saint Peter’s Better Health Library. 

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