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What is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis?

Scoliosis is when an abnormal curve and/or twist develops in the spine. This condition is classified according to its cause and the age a person is at time of diagnosis. Scoliosis can be present at birth, or it can begin to form as a child grows. In some cases, scoliosis is discovered in adulthood.

According to statistics, about two to three percent of the U.S. population is affected by scoliosis. The most common form of scoliosis happens during puberty and is known as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Children treated by a minimally invasive spine surgeon are often able to find success through various forms of conservative treatment.

What does idiopathic scoliosis mean?

If scoliosis develops in a child, it typically occurs between the ages of 10 to 15 years but can develop through 18 years.  It affects both boys and girls, but is more likely to progress in females. It is categorized as “idiopathic” because doctors aren’t able to determine a single cause.  There is some belief genetics may play a role but other unknown factors may contribute.


Early intervention can make a big difference, so the sooner scoliosis is detected, the better the long-term prognosis.  If you notice your child has one or more of these symptoms, you should seek medical assistance:

  • Shoulders – if they sit unevenly, or one or both shoulder blades protrude.
  • Hips – one or both are raised or appear to look higher than they should.
  • Head – is not centered directly above the pelvic area.
  • Waist and rib cages – sit unevenly and/or give a crooked appearance or visible hump is detected.
  • Torso – tends to lean when the child stands.
  • May be some back pain.

During annual checkups, a pediatrician will usually detect any symptoms that may point to scoliosis, but the more familiar you are with what to look for, the sooner you can seek treatment for your child from a minimally invasive spine surgeon.

Treatment options for adolescents

After scoliosis is suspected through physical examination, confirmation is usually done through x-ray, CT scan or MRI. The severity of scoliosis and subsequent treatment is based on the degree of the spine’s curvature and its location.

  • A 10-degree curve or less is usually watched carefully.
  • A 25 to 30 degrees curve is considered to be significant.
  • A curve that exceeds 45 degrees is categorized as severe.

The larger the curve, the more aggressive the treatment, which usually involves bracing or surgery. Early diagnosis and intervention are important. Left untreated, scoliosis can lead to additional complications. Modern research and data show noninvasive treatments do help scoliosis. A minimally invasive spine surgeon can assess the condition and inform you of your options, enabling you to make an educated decision to determine the best level of treatment for your child.

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