Scoliosis: What Parents Need To Know

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scoliosis
Michael Glotzbecker, MD
Michael Glotzbecker, MD

If you ever stood in front of your school nurse in junior high to have your back checked out, you’re probably familiar with the term scoliosis. But what were they looking for?

Scoliosis is a disorder in which the spine curves sideways. This usually looks like a “C” or “S” shape. The most common type is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, and this typically shows up between the ages of 10 and 15.

What Causes Scoliosis?

“Most cases have no known cause,” says Michael Glotzbecker, MD, Chief of Pediatric Orthopedics at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “It can run in families, so anyone with a parent or sibling with scoliosis should be regularly checked for it. Girls are also more likely to require treatment than boys.”

How Do I Know Whether My Child Has Scoliosis?

Scoliosis usually doesn’t hurt, so your child is unlikely to know anything is wrong. That’s why screening is important – catching it early can keep scoliosis from getting worse.

“If your child’s school doesn’t perform screenings, make sure your pediatrician does,” advises Dr. Glotzbecker. “It’s recommended that girls be examined twice, at ages 10 and 12, while boys should be screened once, around age 13 or 14. A screening for scoliosis can coincide with your child’s annual physical. After a child grows taller during puberty, some signs of scoliosis might become more obvious, such as tilted shoulders, one hip higher than the other or ribs that stick out more on one side.”

Is Scoliosis Dangerous?

Scoliosis is almost always asymptomatic. Most children have mild scoliosis that never needs to be treated and will just be observed through growth. For some (a minority of patients), an untreated curve can get extreme enough that it interferes with breathing. “Fortunately, kids with scoliosis can still do all the same activities as kids without it, but they may need treatment,” says Dr. Glotzbecker. “Some will need to wear a brace to keep the spinal curve from getting worse, and others may require surgery to straighten the spine.”

Can My Child Still Play Sports?

Yes! Regular physical activity is good for everyone, including those with scoliosis. There’s no evidence that playing sports makes the spinal curve worse. Children who are in a brace can take it off to participate in organized sports.

related links

Read more about how advancements in surgery have helped treat scoliosis patients at UH Rainbow.

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