There are different forms of scoliosis. Find out what to expect from scoliosis in childhood compared with scoliosis in adulthood.

Scoliosis is a condition that develops when your spine curves in an atypical way. This is usually due to a congenital issue that started before you were born or to degenerative changes that have happened throughout your lifetime.

Childhood scoliosis that is severe is often treated with bracing and sometimes even surgery. Mild cases can progress with age. Scoliosis that begins later in life can also get worse with time.

This article will explore how scoliosis can progress with age and how your doctor will measure the changes.

Childhood scoliosis can become worse with age, mainly because your bones develop rapidly in phases such as adolescence. People often receive a scoliosis diagnosis in childhood or the teen years, typically at 10–15 years of age.

Even if a doctor diagnoses scoliosis when you’re at a young age, they will usually watch the progression of the condition, taking regular X-rays and measurements of the curvature. Physical therapy can help, but in severe cases, you’ll likely need a brace to help straighten your spine or surgery to correct the curvature.

In adulthood, scoliosis can develop for no apparent reason over time or happen as a result of degenerative changes. Some research suggests that in 40% of adults who develop scoliosis, the curvature worsens with time, but most experience only a mild progression.

Your spine plays a big role in supporting your vital organs, housing your nervous system, and maintaining your overall balance and posture.

Scoliosis in children is sometimes first noticeable by the uneven appearance of shoulders and hips.

As curvature progresses, your body can take on an obvious tilt, and other symptoms can develop if the curvature compresses or shifts vital organs such as your lungs.

In adults, the first symptom of scoliosis is usually back pain. This pain most commonly affects the lower back, but compression of your spinal cord can also cause numbness, tingling, or pain in your legs and feet.

Scoliosis that is left untreated can get worse over time.

Gravity, everyday activities, and normal growth spurts can all contribute. Certain stretches that extend or twist your spine, including those you might do in gymnastics, could worsen the progression of your scoliosis.

You can discuss with a healthcare professional any sports or activities you participate in.

In childhood and the teen years, when growth happens quickly, your doctor may want to check for progression of curvature every 4–6 months — especially throughout puberty. In adults, doctors usually check the curvature progression once every 5 years unless symptoms suddenly worsen.

Your doctor will use X-rays, other imaging tests, and a measurement called the Cobb Method to estimate the curvature of your spine in degrees.

Treatment can be based on symptoms alone but is usually recommended when the amount of curvature approaches 10–30 degrees. A curvature of 40 degrees or more is considered significant, and surgery is often necessary.

Scoliosis that is treated in childhood or adolescence with bracing and other therapies may improve. Surgical correction of scoliosis is usually permanent since implanted rods stabilize the spine to prevent it from curving again.

However, in adults, wear and tear over time plays a big role in the progression of the curvature, and scoliosis often gets worse, rather than better, with time.

Scoliosis is treatable with therapies and bracing or, in severe cases, surgery.

If you have a mild case, it may not need significant treatment, but your doctor will monitor your condition regularly and take measurements to check the progression of the curvature.

Most of the time, scoliosis is not life threatening. However, a severe curve can lead to organ and nerve compression or damage that results in serious symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath.

Children and teens who receive a diagnosis of scoliosis usually start treatments such as bracing and physical therapy at a young age, and doctors closely monitor the progression of the condition. With treatment such as bracing or surgery, scoliosis can improve during these years of development.

However, in adults, time usually worsens a curvature that develops due to degenerative changes. Doctors will monitor and measure the curvature of your spine and offer treatment when necessary.