Congenital scoliosis is an uncommon form of scoliosis that begins before your baby’s birth. It can cause their spine to curve atypically as they grow. Surgery may be necessary.
Scoliosis is atypical sideways curvature of the bones of the spine. Multiple different types of scoliosis exist. Congenital scoliosis is the least common, affecting 1 in every 10,000 babies born.
Congenital scoliosis may occur alone, as part of a genetic syndrome, or together with other health conditions or congenital changes.
Congenital scoliosis is present from birth, though you might not notice the condition right away. Occasionally, the spinal curvature may remain mild, and some children may not develop any major issues from congenital scoliosis.
But for other children, congenital scoliosis may progress rapidly. The majority will eventually require surgical treatment.
If your child has received a diagnosis of congenital scoliosis, a doctor can help develop a plan that involves monitoring and treatment.
Here’s more in-depth information about scoliosis.
Congenital scoliosis happens when the bones of a baby’s spine, called the vertebrae, do not form as they should.
As your child grows, the bones of the spine grow, too. In congenital scoliosis, the irregular vertebrae cause the spine to increasingly curve as it grows. This atypical sideways curvature is called scoliosis.
Sometimes, doctors can detect the condition in infancy. Many congenital scoliosis cases are diagnosed at a younger age. That said, many children with congenital scoliosis may not show visible signs or symptoms until they grow older.
Doctors can sometimes diagnose congenital scoliosis on a prenatal ultrasound. A child’s pediatrician might notice it soon after birth, when they note an irregularity of the infant’s back on physical exam.
Scoliosis tends to become more obvious as a child grows. As the spine grows, the atypical curve gets sharper, and other parts of the spine may also curve to compensate. You might notice:
- uneven shoulder blades or shoulder heights
- one hip higher than the other
- uneven appearance of the back when your child bends over
- head tilt
Your doctor will also check the skin over the spine for any differences and look for other less common symptoms, such as weakness or atypical reflexes.
Congenital scoliosis begins early in fetal development. As the spine develops, one or more vertebrae might fail to form properly, or multiple vertebrae might fuse together atypically. Sometimes, both situations occur.
The exact reason for this is unclear. Doctors suspect that congenital scoliosis likely results from a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors.
Congenital scoliosis sometimes occurs as part of a genetic syndrome. It has been associated with certain gene mutations.
But genetics are not the only cause. In a 2018 case study involving three twin pairs, for example, only one twin in two of the pairs had congenital scoliosis, while the other twin remained unaffected. (In the third pair, both twins had the condition.) Keep in mind that this was a very small study, and more research needs to be done.
Experts have also associated environmental factors with congenital scoliosis, including certain health conditions in the birthing parent, as well as exposure to medications and toxins.
A doctor can usually diagnose congenital scoliosis with a physical exam and X-rays of the spine.
Treatment recommendations will depend on your child’s age, vertebral anatomy, severity of curvature, and other medical conditions.
Scoliosis tends to progress with growth spurts. So even in mild cases, a doctor will closely monitor your child with regular X-rays during periods of rapid growth (from birth through age 5 years and during puberty).
Some children with congenital scoliosis will not need any further treatment. This is more likely when a scoliosis diagnosis happens at older ages and remains mild and nonprogressive.
A doctor may recommend bracing in certain circumstances, though bracing alone is not typically helpful for congenital scoliosis.
The large majority of children with congenital scoliosis will eventually require surgical treatment.
Depending on your child’s age and the specifics of their condition, scoliosis surgery could include options such as:
- implanting spinal rods or rib expanders that can grow with your child
- removing atypical vertebrae
- performing spinal fusion procedures
Doctors will recommend surgery when it’s needed to maximize the healthy growth of your child’s spine and help prevent future complications.
There is no single clear cause of congenital scoliosis. Both genetic and environmental risk factors likely play a role.
Congenital scoliosis is more common in females than males. Genetic mutations can contribute to scoliosis, and family history contributes a small risk.
Up to 3.4% of people with congenital scoliosis have a family history of structural differences in the spine present since birth. Even more have relatives with idiopathic scoliosis, the more common form of the condition.
Experts have also identified a variety of environmental risk factors, including exposure to certain medications and toxins, as well as health conditions of the birthing parent.
Congenital scoliosis is caused by a range of vertebral anomalies present before birth. It can also be associated with other genetic syndromes and health conditions.
Your child’s outlook depends on the specifics of their spinal anatomy, their age, and any underlying health conditions.
Because congenital scoliosis is present at birth and tends to worsen with growth, most children will experience progressively irregular spinal curvature as they age. Many will eventually require some form of corrective surgery.
When needed, surgery can help maintain your child’s best growth and function. Research from 2023 shows that people who have had congenital scoliosis surgery report improvements in pain, self-image, and function years later.
What is the difference between scoliosis and congenital scoliosis?
“Scoliosis” refers to an atypical curvature of the spine. There are multiple different types of scoliosis.
Most scoliosis is idiopathic, meaning there is no clear cause. But in congenital scoliosis, the cause is known — it stems from atypical formation of the vertebrae before a baby is born.
Congenital scoliosis is the least common type of scoliosis, representing only
Is scoliosis progressive?
Yes, most cases of congenital scoliosis are progressive. This means the curvature of the spine will continue to increase over time.
The risk of progression in congenital scoliosis depends on your child’s age, spine anatomy, and the location and degree of the curve, among other factors.
Scoliosis progression is most likely during periods of rapid growth (like early childhood and puberty). Your doctor will monitor your child closely during these periods and help you determine the risk of progression.
Can having congenital scoliosis affect a child’s life expectancy?
Scoliosis itself does not generally affect life expectancy, particularly in uncomplicated cases.
Congenital scoliosis is a varied disorder. Some children with congenital scoliosis also have related issues with their heart, lungs, or kidneys. Some may have neurological disorders. Occasionally, atypical spine and rib development can affect lung capacity and function.
Any of these may affect a child’s overall outlook.
Close monitoring and treatment with your child’s healthcare team will help maximize healthy function and minimize any complications.
Congenital scoliosis is the least common type of scoliosis.
Congenital scoliosis happens when one or more bony vertebrae do not form properly before a baby’s birth. As the child grows, the irregular vertebrae cause the spine to curve and twist in an atypical way.
Sometimes congenital scoliosis can be mild. The spinal curvature may not be apparent right away. Once it is detected, these children may not require any treatment beyond regular X-rays and monitoring with their doctor.
In other cases, congenital scoliosis can be more serious. It may be associated with other congenital anomalies or syndromes. Doctors will screen children with congenital scoliosis for kidney, heart, or lung problems.
Most congenital scoliosis causes spinal curves that progressively worsen as your child grows. If necessary, doctors can offer surgical treatments to help your child reach their best growth potential and maintain healthy activity.