9 Surprising Facts About Scoliosis

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN on October 20, 2021
  • doctor shows spine in concept image
    Scoliosis Facts
    Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. The spine is normally shaped like an S, when viewed from the side. In people with scoliosis, the spine curves to the left or right (as viewed from the back) and may be C- or S-shaped. Scoliosis can be mild, moderate or severe; some cases do not require intervention while others benefit from medical treatment. Learn more about this medical condition, including signs of scoliosis, child vs. adult scoliosis, and famous people with scoliosis.
  • doctor examining female teenager's back
    1. Scoliosis is the most common spinal abnormality in children.
    Scoliosis often develops in the tween and teen years, when children are growing rapidly. According to the National Health Institute, approximately 2 to 3% of American children have adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, defined as abnormal curvature of the spine that occurs during the teen years and has no identifiable cause.

    Both boys and girls can develop scoliosis, but the condition is much more common in girls. Tween and teen girls are 5 to 8 times more likely than their male counterparts to develop scoliosis and require treatment.
  • father helping his daughter with a mild cerebral palsy walk up a step outside
    2. No one knows what causes most cases of scoliosis.
    According to the Scoliosis Research Society, 80% of scoliosis cases are idiopathic, which means ‘of undetermined cause.’ Because scoliosis can run in families, researchers suspect there may be a genetic link; however, most cases of scoliosis occur in children who do not have a known family history of the disorder.

    Some cases of scoliosis are congenital, meaning that something went wrong when the baby was developing in the womb. Scoliosis may also be caused by muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or problems with the bones of the spine.
  • back pain
    3. Adult scoliosis may be caused by disc degeneration.
    In adults, scoliosis can be idiopathic (of undetermined cause) or degenerative. Degenerative scoliosis occurs when the discs that normally cushion the bones of the spine begin to wear out. As the discs crumble, the spaces between the bones of the spine shrink and collapse and the spine may rearrange itself into an abnormal shape. Symptoms of adult degenerative scoliosis include back pain, numbness, and shooting pains that travel down the legs. Adults scoliosis usually requires medical treatment to prevent complications.
  • chiropractic treatment or therapy for female patient with scoliosis
    4. Uneven shoulders can be a sign of scoliosis.
    Signs and symptoms of scoliosis include uneven shoulders, a head that doesn’t appear centered on the body, and unevenness in the sides of the body. When the affected individual bends forward, you may be able to see that one side of the rib cage is higher than the other. In adults, scoliosis can also cause back pain, numbness and tingling.

    Severe cases of scoliosis can cause shortness of breath (because the spine puts pressure on the lungs and keeps them from expanding fully) and difficulty with movement.
  • midsection of teenager carrying a back brace used for scoliosis correction
    5. Mild cases of scoliosis may not require treatment.
    Small curves of the spine don’t usually require treatment. If your child has a mild case of scoliosis, your healthcare provider may choose to monitor it over time. (If the curve gets worse, treatment may be warranted.) When treatment is necessary, doctors recommend noninvasive treatments first, including back braces. Stiff, plastic scoliosis braces are the most common treatment for children older than 10 who are still growing. Braces are typically worn 12 to 20 hours per day. Severe cases of scoliosis (and scoliosis that doesn’t improve with bracing) may require surgery.
  • doctor checking breathing of young boy in exam room
    6. But, scoliosis can cause serious health problems.
    Severe scoliosis can cause breathing problems, significant pain, nerve damage, leakage of spinal fluid and difficulty with movement. In many cases, early diagnosis and treatment with a brace is sufficient to prevent complications. In other cases, surgery is needed to decrease pain, stabilize the spine and prevent further complications. Some patients require more than one surgery.
  • male doctor and adolescent female patient in spine-correcting scoliosis brace looking at spinal x-ray in medical office
    7. Back braces can effectively treat scoliosis in children.
    Because children are still growing, a brace that holds the body in proper position can keep the spinal curve from becoming larger with time. Fortunately, scoliosis braces have come a long way in recent years. Today, most scoliosis braces look like stiff plastic jackets. They are designed to be worn underneath clothing and can be removed to attend to hygiene and participate in activities. Braces should be worn 12 to 23 hours per day, depending on your doctor’s recommendation.
  • xray image of partially fused spine with screws
    8. Spinal surgery can help teens and adults with scoliosis.
    Braces can’t fix the spinal curves of people who have stopped growing. Braces can still be used to provide temporary support to sore backs but are not for long-term use.

    Surgeries to treat scoliosis in older teens and adults include:

    • Microdecompression, which relieves pressure on the spinal nerves

    • Surgical stabilization, which involves hooks, wires and screws to support the spine in a healthy shape

    • Spinal fusion, a procedure that permanently connects the bones of the spine together

  • Usain Bolt of Soccer Aid World XI during Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2019 match between England and Soccer Aid World XI June 16, 2019 in London, England
    9. People with scoliosis can play sports.
    Usain Bolt, the famous Jamaican sprinter, has 9 Olympic gold medals, 3 world records, and scoliosis. He suspects the condition hampered him early in his career and contributed to injuries, but told ESPN in 2011 that “if I keep my core and back strong, the scoliosis doesn’t really bother me.”

    Doctors recommend physical activity and core strengthening exercises for patients with scoliosis. Children and teens with scoliosis may also be able to remove their braces to participate in athletics and dance.
9 Surprising Scoliosis Facts | Spine Curvature & Signs of Scoliosis

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men. Most recently, she is the author ofThe First-Time Mom's Guide to Raising Boys: Practical Advice for Your Son's Formative Years.
Was this helpful?
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.