Pediatric scoliosis is an atypical curvature of the spine in an individual under 18 years old. Most children with pediatric scoliosis are diagnosed between 10 and 16 years old and will not need treatment.

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Scoliosis is an atypical sideways curvature of the spine. It usually begins in childhood or adolescence and is common, occurring in up to 1–3% of children ages 10–16 years.

In many people, scoliosis remains mild and ultimately will not require treatment. But, in some children, a scoliosis curve will continue to progress over time.

Treatment is available for all types of scoliosis when it is needed to help stabilize the spinal curvature.

Read on for more information about scoliosis.

Scoliosis is an atypical sideways curvature of the bones of the spine. All healthy spines have some curve to them, but scoliosis happens when there is a lateral (sideways) curvature of more than 10 degrees, as measured on X-rays.

Healthcare professionals most commonly diagnose scoliosis in children during growth spurts in the early teen years, but different types of scoliosis can occur at any age. Scoliosis in children is also referred to as pediatric scoliosis.

Most children with scoliosis will not need treatment.

Scoliosis is typically not painful. That said, you may notice the following:

  • One shoulder or hip appears higher than the other.
  • The child’s head or trunk appears twisted to one side.
  • When the child is bending forward, one side of their back appears higher than the other.

Experts divide pediatric scoliosis into three main types:

  • Idiopathic: This is the most common type of scoliosis (80–85% of all scoliosis cases). The term “idiopathic” means it has an unknown cause.
  • Congenital scoliosis: This is the least common type of scoliosis. It is caused by irregular development of the bones of the spine before a baby is born.
  • Neuromuscular: This type is caused by other neurological or musculoskeletal conditions, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.

Genetics likely plays some role in the onset of scoliosis. The condition it can run in families and may be associated with certain genetic syndromes. But no single genetic cause of scoliosis has been found.

Scoliosis is not caused by poor posture, heavy backpacks, or exercise.

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Doctors can diagnose scoliosis with a physical examination and X-rays of the spine.

Though some curvature of the spine is typical, lateral curves of more than 10 degrees are considered scoliosis.

In certain circumstances, the doctor may order additional imaging tests to help clarify the diagnosis.

A doctor will recommend a treatment based on the type of scoliosis your child has, your child’s age and growth potential, and the severity of their spinal curvature.

When treatment is needed, it usually includes bracing, surgery, or both. Your child will see a specialist, such as an orthopedist, to help manage treatment.

Treatment options for scoliosis include:

  • Watch and wait: For many children, mild adolescent Idiopathic scoliosis will not require any treatment beyond close monitoring and regular X-rays.
  • Bracing: A doctor may recommend bracing if your child has significant height growth potential and idiopathic scoliosis of approximately 20-40 degrees or a curve that is progressing quickly.
  • Scoliosis surgery: Healthcare professionals may consider scoliosis surgery for more severe curves, usually greater than 45 degrees. A child may also need surgery when scoliosis is associated with other neuromotor disorders or structural differences in the bones of the spine that have been present since birth.

Though a doctor may recommend physical therapy in certain circumstances, it has generally not been proven to help people with scoliosis.

For idiopathic scoliosis, the most common type, risk factors include:

  • Age: Scoliosis most commonly starts in early adolescence.
  • Sex: Scoliosis is slightly more frequent and significantly more likely to progress in people assigned female at birth than those assigned male.
  • Family history: A family history of scoliosis is found in about 30% of children with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.
  • Genetics: No single genetic cause of scoliosis has been identified, but genetic risk factors are likely involved. Although most children with scoliosis do not have a family history of the disorder, about one-third do. In identical twin pairs where one twin has idiopathic scoliosis, the other twin has a 73% chance of also being affected.

Most children with scoliosis can participate in age-appropriate activities without restriction and may not require any treatment beyond observation and close monitoring.

Only a small percentage of children with the most common type of scoliosis will require treatment with bracing. Fewer still will eventually need surgery.

Following treatment, your child can generally return to their usual activities once cleared by their doctor.

Because there are many different types of scoliosis curves, your child’s overall outlook depends on:

  • the type of scoliosis they have
  • their age
  • the severity and location of the spinal curvature

Does pediatric scoliosis go away?

Rarely, extremely mild idiopathic scoliosis curves may improve on their own, but this is not common.

More commonly, teens may develop mild scoliosis curves, which doctors will monitor closely throughout the teen’s growth period. They may never require treatment.

Once the teen is done growing taller, milder curves (less than 30 degrees) generally do not progress or cause any further issues. But the curvature does not go away.

More significant scoliotic curves are more likely to progress. Curves greater than 50 degrees may even continue to progress when your child is done growing. Your child’s doctor can help you understand the risks and likely outcomes for your child.

At what age can scoliosis be corrected?

Scoliosis tends to progress over time, with height growth spurts. Still, most scoliosis will not require corrective treatment such as surgery.

Bracing to stop or slow scoliosis curve progression is a treatment for certain types of scoliosis.

To work well, doctors typically recommend bracing while your child is still actively growing and not yet skeletally mature. Your child’s doctor can help determine their skeletal maturity.

The decision to perform corrective scoliosis surgery depends more on the type of scoliosis a child has and the severity of the curvature than their age.

Some children born with congenital scoliosis may need corrective surgery very early on in childhood. Most teens with idiopathic scoliosis will not require surgery, but those who do may not need it until closer to adulthood.

How serious is scoliosis in kids?

The great majority of children with scoliosis, especially idiopathic scoliosis, will not require treatment and will not have serious complications.

Sometimes, scoliosis curves can cause concerns with back pain or self-image as a child ages.

Less commonly, scoliosis curves become severe enough that they risk progressing throughout adulthood. They could also cause issues with lung function. In these more serious cases, scoliosis surgery can help.

Scoliosis is an atypical sideways curvature of the spine that occurs in about 1-3% of children.

The most common type of scoliosis is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. It usually begins in late childhood or the early teen years. Experts have not identified a specific cause of this type of scoliosis, though it can run in families.

Most people with scoliosis will not require treatment. Yet if the spine curvature is progressing on X-rays or is severe, a doctor may refer you to a spine specialist who can help treat the condition.

When needed, scoliosis can often be treated with bracing. Sometimes, doctors recommend scoliosis surgery to stabilize the spine and help correct the curvature.

The great majority of children with scoliosis grow into adulthood without any serious functional impairment.