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What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a malformation of the backbone that results in a lateral curve of at least 10 degrees, giving the spine a ‘C’ or ‘S’ shape on X-rays. About 2% of adolescents suffer from scoliosis. It is most likely to be diagnosed during the growth spurt around puberty, but it can happen at any age. The condition affects males and females equally, but females are more likely to experience a severe progression that requires treatment. Scoliosis can be debilitating, but our experts provide comprehensive spinal care that will help maintain your quality of life.

Causes of a scoliosis

A child can be born with scoliosis or it may appear later in life. When a baby’s vertebra curves in utero, the condition is called congenital scoliosis. Doctors may detect this at birth, or it may go unnoticed until the teenage years. Scoliosis can be caused by cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, infections, tumors, degenerative arthritis, and other conditions. About 80% of cases are considered idiopathic scoliosis, meaning the exact cause is unknown. Slumping and poor posture do not cause scoliosis.

Signs of scoliosis

A person with scoliosis may appear to have uneven shoulders and a head that is not centered directly above the pelvis. One or both hips may be raised, and the waist may be uneven. The entire body may seem to lean to the side. Patients may experience back pain. In severe cases, a patient might have breathing difficulties because the curve can compress space for the lungs.


A doctor may first suspect scoliosis during a routine screening called the forward bending test. When a child with scoliosis bends forward with their legs together and knees straight, a doctor will notice waist asymmetry or a prominent outline of the ribs on one side. The diagnosis will be confirmed with an X-ray. A spinal radiograph, CT scan, or MRI may also be used. The Cobb angle is used to measure the degree of the curve. A curve of more than 25 degrees is considered significant. Advanced techniques, including 3D X-rays and 3D modeling, may be used to help surgeons develop a treatment plan.


In about 90% of cases, the curve is mild, and treatment is not necessary. Doctors may simply monitor the spine with regular X-rays to see if the curve worsens.  For a very young child, mehta casting might be an option to gently align the spine with a plaster cast. For a child with a curve between 25 degrees and 40 degrees, a doctor will likely recommend a brace, such as a thoracic-lumbar-sacral orthosis, to prevent progression, which is effective in about 80% of children. A brace cannot correct an existing curve. Surgery might be recommended in children with curves greater than 40 degrees and in adults with curves greater than 50 degrees. Different surgical options are available, including minimally invasive techniques that use expandable devices that will grow with a child. Spinal fusion surgery may be considered in more severe cases. Anti-inflammatory drugs, cortisone injections, and physical therapy might benefit some patients. With treatment, observation, and follow-up care, most scoliosis patients lead normal, active lives.


What You Can Expect at UTHealth Neurosciences

Our dedicated team uses advanced technology to accurately diagnose and treat neurological diseases and conditions impacting babies and children. We work in multidisciplinary teams of specialists and pediatric neurosurgeons who share insights, leading to better treatment decision-making and outcomes, as well as lower costs and time savings. Throughout treatment, we will work closely with the doctor who referred your family to ensure a smooth transition back to your child’s regular care. While your family is with us, they will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Contact Us

At UTHealth Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.