Scoliosis: symptoms, causes and treatment


Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine twists and curves to the side.

By Mr Colin Nnadi

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine in which it twists and curves to the side. It can affect people of any age but most often starts during the growth spurt before puberty.

Mr Colin Nnadi, Consultant Spine Surgeon at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, looks at the symptoms, causes and treatments for scoliosis:

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine, often appearing like an ‘S-shape’ as it twists and curves. Severity can vary quite a lot from case to case, from a slight curve in minor cases to twists and curves in the spine that are so severe that they’re disabling.

What are the types of scoliosis and what causes them?

There are lots of different types of scoliosis, but they fall into three main categories: idiopathic, congenital, and neuromuscular. When these categories occur in children under the age of 10 years they are described as Early Onset Scoliosis (EOS). It is important to treat children with EOS as soon as possible in order to prevent lifelong problems with lung and heart function.

  • Idiopathic scoliosis

This the most common type of scoliosis – and essentially means a case of scoliosis with no one clear cause. Many cases of idiopathic scoliosis are diagnosed during adolescence, during the period of sudden growth that many teenagers experience.

  • Congenital scoliosis

Congenital forms of scoliosis are forms of the condition that has been caused by spinal defects present at birth. Congenital forms of scoliosis are often diagnosed earlier but are fairly rare, affecting just 1 in 10,000 newborns.

  • Neuromuscular scoliosis

This refers to forms of scoliosis that are considered to be secondary to an underlying disorder of spinal cord, brain or muscular system. These forms of scoliosis may occur when the nerves and muscles surrounding the spine are unable to support the condition.

Scoliosis symptoms

The symptoms of scoliosis will vary depending on the severity of the case and its cause – but there are some key signs you can look out for:

  • A visibly curved spine
  • Uneven shoulders
  • The shoulder, hip or ribs sticking out on one side
  • Leaning to one side
  • Clothes not fitting well
  • Muscular painor discomfort

Are there any risk factors?

There are a few risk factors for scoliosis which increase the chances of developing the condition. Other than an underlying condition that predisposes the sufferer to developing scoliosis, including cerebral palsy, osteogenesis imperfecta and muscular dystrophy among others, there are three main risk factors:

  • Age: For idiopathic scoliosis in particular, children and adolescents undergoing a growth spurt are at increased risk.
  • Sex: Although rates of mild scoliosis are similar in boys and girls, girls are at increased risk of severe scoliosis requiring treatment.
  • Family: Although most people with scoliosis don’t have a family history of scoliosis, having a close family member with the condition may increase the risk.

Are there any complications?

Most people with scoliosis will have a mild form that doesn’t cause significant complications. For those with more severe forms of the condition, complications can include pain, breathing problems or nerve compression.

The physical appearance of scoliosis, or of wearing a back brace, can also be quite tough on people with the condition emotionally – both children and adults. Joining a support group can be quite helpful.

What are the treatments? Is there a cure?

Many children and adults with scoliosis will not need treatment, just monitoring through regular x-rays to ensure the curvature doesn’t increase or cause discomfort.

Children and teenagers may be given a back brace to wear for a certain period of time each day, with the aim of preventing the curvature becoming worse as they grow.

For some rare, severe cases, surgery may be needed to straighten the spine. This surgery is usually only recommended for adults and older children who have stopped growing.

Can you offer any lifestyle tips for scoliosis?

If you suspect that you or your child has scoliosis, you should see your doctor to get checked out. If they suspect scoliosis, they can refer to a specialist for diagnosis and to discuss options.

Unless your doctor advises otherwise, it’s good to stay generally active, fit and well – your doctor may be able to advise on specific exercises.

Net Doctor


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