Learn What to Look For

As your child grows, so does his spine. In most children, spines grow straight—but not always.

Betty Warnock, Scoliosis Screening Clinical Program Coordinator at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says, “Sometimes as it grows your child’s spine can bend to the side and may even twist or rotate. This “s” or “c” shape curve of the spine is a condition called scoliosis.”

About 2 to 3 percent of kids have scoliosis—about 3 million new cases each year in the U.S. Most cases of scoliosis occur during early adolescence when children are growing rapidly.

Six signs that your child may have scoliosis include:

  1. Uneven shoulders and shoulder blades
  2. Unequal distance between the arms and body
  3. Uneven hips
  4. Ribs that are prominent or stick out in one area
  5. Muscles that are prominent in the lower back or that bulge on one side
  6. Uneven folds at the waist.

Scoliosis is not always painful. Your child may not have pain at all, especially if the curve is mild or moderate.

How doctors detect and treat scoliosis

If you think your child may have scoliosis, talk to your child’s pediatrician. An X-ray will confirm a diagnosis of scoliosis, which is defined as a lateral curve of the spine of 11 degrees or more.

Betty explains, “Early detection is important. While most kids with scoliosis will not have harmful long-term effects, some cases do result in serious problems later if not treated.” Long-term complications could include:

  • Obvious spinal deformity
  • Ongoing back pain
  • Heart and lung problems

If your child has scoliosis, he should get regular check-ups and X-rays to monitor the size of the curve as he grows. Scoliosis seems to affect girls and boys the same at the same rate, but it is seven to eight times more likely that a curve will progress in girls. The curve may get worse during the adolescent growth spurt, ages 10 to 13 in girls and ages 12 to 15 in boys. Once your child is fully grown, a mild curve (less than 30 degrees) will probably not worsen.

Treatment for scoliosis ranges from simply keeping an eye on your child’s spine, to wearing a back brace, to corrective surgery in severe cases.

Where you take them matters

At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, our team specializes in all aspects of spine care in kids, including scoliosis. Our goal is to return your child to a normal and active life. Our team of nurses, doctors, physical therapists and orthotists (experts who provide assistance devices such as braces) works together to offer a complete diagnosis, leading-edge care and a comprehensive treatment plan.

Visit choa.org/cpgortho to find board-certified pediatric orthopedists.

This is general information and not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away.