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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

2-minute read

Scoliosis is the term for the sideways curvature 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 may need to see their doctor regularly to check on its progress.

What causes scoliosis?

Most of the time, the cause is unknown, and scoliosis develops in otherwise healthy children.

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 or muscular dystrophy.

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.

Illustration showing an example of scoliosis.
Scoliosis is an abnormal or exaggerated curve of the spine.

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. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the scoliosis and the age of the person affected.

Most cases of scoliosis are mild, and may need no further investigation or treatment. If more significant, regular check ups may be required.

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.

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Last reviewed: April 2019

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