Scoliosis is a sideways curve of the spine. It happens to about 3% of children and can occur at any age but is often noticeable between the ages of 9 and 16, when kids are growing rapidly. There is no cure for scoliosis, but most children will not have harmful long-term effects. However, some children could develop serious problems later in life if a spinal curve continues to progress and is not treated. That’s why early detection is very important.
How does scoliosis affect the spine?
Scoliosis can make the spine look like an “s” or a “c” rather than a straight line when viewed from the back. An X-ray of the spine is needed to determine if the condition has developed. Scoliosis is defined as a curve of 11 degrees or more. As the spine grows, it may bend to the side and may twist or rotate. Since ribs are attached to the spine, they can rotate and make the chest look uneven. This twisting can also make the shoulders or waist look uneven.
Both girls and boys seem to be affected equally with smaller curves, but it is seven to eight times more likely a curve will progress in girls than boys.
What are the different types of scoliosis?
Is scoliosis painful?
Scoliosis is not always painful. Your child may not have pain at all, especially if the curve is mild or moderate. However, if your child has constant back pain, contact a pediatric orthopedic specialist.
Scoliosis is usually noticed during routine health exams or as part of a school’s screening program. Your child’s primary care provider should screen for scoliosis at the child’s annual well checkup. Adolescents should be screened between the ages of 9 and 16. Georgia public schools offer free screenings during the middle school years, typically during sixth and eighth grade. If a screening shows signs of scoliosis in your child, you will be notified.
A positive scoliosis screening does not mean that your child has scoliosis and will need treatment. It simply means that you should get your child checked by his primary care provider or at a Children’s clinic.
If your child has scoliosis, your doctor will help decide on the next steps. It is important for your child to be evaluated early so you have the most treatment choices. Scoliosis will not prevent your child from doing his regular activities or sports.
Contact your child’s pediatrician, or set up an appointment through Children’s Scoliosis Program.
- Find a doctor.
- Schedule a scoliosis screening clinic appointment by calling 404-255-1933. You will be seen by an orthopedic physician at one of our Children’s Physician Group–Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine locations.
What should I do if my child is diagnosed with scoliosis?
If your child has scoliosis, your doctor will help determine the next steps.
- Some children and teens require a follow-up recheck at six months or one year.
- A few children and teens may need medical treatment, such as bracing or surgery.
- Your child can continue his sports or activities unless the doctor says to stop.
Early diagnosis of scoliosis is important for successful treatment of spinal curves, especially if it begins at an earlier age before adolescence. It is very important to treat scoliosis as soon as possible because, if left untreated, scoliosis has the potential to cause negative health issues as an adult.
Some of these problems include:
- Chronic back pain
- Physical deformity
- Heart problems
- Lung problems
If you think your child may have scoliosis, act now, regardless of his or her age.Make an Appointment
Your child’s treatment will depend on the kind of scoliosis, size of the curve and how much he is likely to grow. The goal of treatment is to decrease the progression. Small curves in children who have little growth remaining have a very low risk of progression, while fairly large curves in skeletally immature patients have the highest risk of progression.
Doctors’ observations and rechecks
Small curves require regular rechecks by your child’s doctor or at our Scoliosis Screening Clinic. Rechecks determine if the curve is getting worse as your child gets taller. If the small curve does not change, no treatment will be needed. Younger scoliosis patients with larger curves have a much greater risk of curve progression.
Importance of X-rays
Spinal X-rays are very important in confirming a scoliosis diagnosis, measuring the spinal curve and showing the maturity of a child’s skeleton. It is important to note that Children’s customizes each patient’s scan, allowing us to reduce the amount of X-ray radiation your child is exposed to by up to 50% compared to adult facilities.
The curve in your child’s spine is measured using the Cobb Method—measuring the degree of maximal tilt in the curved part of the spine.
Your child’s skeletal maturity is measured using the Risser Scale—which looks at the amount of bone in the pelvis. This helps us learn how much more a child may grow.
Bracing as a treatment
Spinal bracing is only used when your child is still growing and is used for moderate or progressive curves. Bracing keeps curves from getting worse. Body casting is a specific treatment that is used for infants and very young children with severe scoliosis.
When surgery becomes necessary
Spine surgery is usually required with large spinal curves, especially if your child is still growing. Doctors often consider surgery for children whose bones are not yet mature and who have curves greater than 40 to 45 degrees. Our team uses advanced technology and surgical implants to provide the safest and most helpful surgery we can, and may recommend additional procedures like halo-gravity traction to support the best surgical outcomes for your child. Our goal is to get kids and teens back to their routine activities, including most sports, as soon as possible. We work with your family to decide on your child’s goals and any restrictions that will help your child have a better recovery.
What kind of physical therapy will my child have after surgery?
If your child needs surgery, our pediatric-trained therapists in our rehabilitation program will work with you and your child to help him stay mobile and learn how to do things safely after he goes home from the hospital.
A physical therapist can teach your child how to reduce pain and move around as easily as possible.
An occupational therapist may work with your child to help him learn how to dress and care for himself after surgery.
Our physical therapists have certifications specifically for children with scoliosis.
Our physical therapy team includes specialists certified in the Schroth Method, a type of exercise especially for scoliosis. The Schroth Method is designed to increase strength and improve posture and is especially helpful along with your bracing program.learn more
Many children will not have harmful long-term effects, but some will develop serious problems later in life if not treated. A curve in the spine may get worse during the adolescent growth spurt. Once a child is fully grown, a mild curve usually will not get worse.
Untreated scoliosis can cause:
- Severe physical deformity
- Chronic back pain
- Heart problems
- Lung problems
Severe cases of scoliosis can cause:
- Curves in the spine that continue to get worse during adult life
- Heart problems
- Lung problems
Doctors in our Scoliosis and Spine Program also collaborate with neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists, physiatrists and other specially trained physicians to care for kids, teens and young adults with complex neurological spine disorders, like certain types of scoliosis. Our Orthopedics Program and Neurology and Neurosurgery Program are both nationally ranked, combining experience and specialized training from two of the top programs in the Southeast to treat chronic back and neck pain, herniated discs, spinal cord tumors and degeneration and other conditions in patients from 0 to 18 years old.
Children’s Physician Group–Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine
- Jed Axelrod, MD
- Robert W. Bruce, Jr., MD
- Dennis P. Devito, MD
- Jorge A. Fabregas, MD
- Nicholas D. Fletcher, MD
- Joshua Murphy, MD
- Michael L. Schmitz, MD
- Amy Bridges, CPO, LO
- Brian Emling, MSPO, CPO, LPO
- Denise Larkins, MSPO, CPO, LPO
- Janet Lombardo, MBA, CPO, LPO
- Jen Galbraith, MSPO, CPO, LPO
- Kaitlin Cash, MSPO, CPO, LPO
- Karl Barner, CPO, LPO
- C. Leigh Davis, MSPO, CPO, LPO, FAAOP
- Mark Holowka, MSPO, CPO, LPO, FAAOP
- Rebecca Hernandez, COP, LPO
- Richard Welling, MSPO, CPO, LPO
- Jessica Corso, CO, LO, FAAOP
- Paul Jackovitch, CO, LO
- Staci MacKay, CO, LO
- Scott Thach, MSPO, CO, LO
- Andy Wolfe, CO, LO
Certified orthotic assistants
- Greg Carey, COA
- Megan Shulk, COA
Members of the Children’s Orthopedics Program, which is consistently ranked among the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report,* collaborate on patient care. We work closely with specialists from across the country and around the world to help establish best practices for pediatric spine care, and we are on the forefront of advanced technologies.
We want our patients and families to have the best possible experience during their spine surgery journeys.
Our dedicated concierge team includes a spine liaison who helps coordinate a patient’s experience by providing complete follow-up care and helping make sure families have the information and resources they need before, during and after care. The spine liaison also serves as a single point of contact for your child and his or her primary care provider.
The spine liaison will help coordinate care by:
- Providing information about lodging and key contacts for those who live outside metro Atlanta.
- Arranging travel accommodations to Atlanta and transportation while in Atlanta.
- Helping families navigate the hospitals and escorting them as needed.
- Assisting with the hospital intake process and clinic visits.
- Writing treatment plans for your child’s or teen’s referring provider.
- Assisting in arranging the use of durable medical equipment after your child or teen is released from the hospital.
- Coordinating interpretation services.
- Coordinating financial planning with insurance companies.
- Following up with you after your child’s or teen’s procedure or visit.
- Communicating with and coordinating requests for your child’s or teen’s referring provider.
Contact concierge services at 404-255-1933.
Our team created a private Facebook group for scoliosis families.
We know that the scoliosis journey can be a long one—from diagnosis and bracing through surgery and recovery. This page offers forums for asking questions, sharing tips and celebrating milestones with other spine patient families.Start connecting
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