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Your doctor can usually diagnose scoliosis after a physical examination of the spine.

Your doctor can usually diagnose scoliosis after a physical examination of the spine.
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Scoliosis

Scoliosis is the term given to an abnormal or exaggerated curve of the spine. It can occur at any age, but tends to start in children and teenagers. Scoliosis can get better without any treatment, but can also get worse with time. People with scoliosis need to see their doctors regularly to check on its progress.

What causes scoliosis?

Most of the time, the cause is unknown.

Sometimes it is congenital, meaning it is present at birth. It is sometimes caused by problems with the nerves and muscles, such as with cerebral palsy.

Scoliosis symptoms

People with scoliosis might have:

  • shoulders that are uneven
  • waist creases that are uneven
  • one shoulder blade that sticks out more than the other
  • one hip higher than the other
  • an obvious exaggerated curve of the spine
  • back pain or discomfort.

Some people with scoliosis have a posture that is unusual or uneven.

If you are concerned that your child may have scoliosis, see your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment is important.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose scoliosis simply by examining you, or your child.

If your doctor thinks you or your child has scoliosis, they may refer you to an orthopaedic specialist. The specialist will also examine you or your child, and may order tests such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI scan.

Treatment of scoliosis

Treatment usually aims to straighten the spine to improve the person’s appearance. What treatment to use depends on how severe the scoliosis is and the age of the person affected.

If the condition is mild, regular check-ups are all that is needed.

If it is more severe, the treatment may involve wearing a brace, which can help prevent the curvature getting worse.

For some people, the curvature is so severe that surgery is suggested. That might involve the insertion of metal rods to straighten the spine, or surgery to fuse some of the bones together.

Exercise and physiotherapy can help ease pain.

Psychological considerations

Children and teenagers with scoliosis who need to wear a brace or have surgery may experience problems with body image and self-esteem, and may need emotional support.

Read more about scoliosis on the Scoliosis Australia website.

Last reviewed: May 2017

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