FAQs on Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a condition where there is a sideways curve to the spine. The curve may be S-shaped or C-shaped. For many people, scoliosis develops during childhood. For others, this condition is the result of age and degeneration of the spine and support structures.

Who gets scoliosis?

Idiopathic scoliosis (no known cause is often diagnosed in children between ages of 9 and 14. This is when children have growth spurts, and girls are affected more than boys. Adult degenerative scoliosis occurs after age 21, and it affects older people more often than young adults.

How common is scoliosis?

Childhood/adolescent scoliosis has a prevalence rate of only 0.3% of the general population. Out of every 1,000 children, only 3 will have scoliosis. The prevalence of adult degenerative scoliosis is around 10-20% of the general population. However, among people age 60 and older, the rate is around 68%.

What causes scoliosis?

For most patients with scoliosis, the cause is never diagnosed and is unknown. For adult scoliosis, causes include degenerative disc disease, spinal arthritis, and osteoporosis. Scoliosis appears to have a hereditary component, as it tends to run in families. Doctors classify scoliosis curves as:

  • Nonstructural – When the spine is structurally normal and the curve is only temporary.
  • Structural – When the spine has a fixed curve, from a birth defect, disease, infection, and injury.

How is scoliosis treated?

Treatment for scoliosis is based on the person’s age, the degree and pattern of the curve, how much the patient may grow, and the type of scoliosis. The doctor will check the curvature every 3-6 months, and treat depending on if the curve is worsening. Treatment options include:

  • Bracing – The spine is braced to prevent the curve from worsening, support the spinal structures, and ease pain.
  • Exercise – While exercise has not been proven to stop scoliosis from worsening, it is important for the patient to keep the back muscles and bones strong. Exercises good for the back include running, walking, and swimming. In addition, sporting activities improves self-esteem and overall well-being.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – A TENS unit is a device worn on the outside of the body. This unit has wires that attach to electrodes placed along the spine. The TENS unit delivers pleasant, mild electric current that interferes with pain signals.
  • Epidural steroid injection (ESI) – When the pain is severe, the doctor can inject the epidural space (area around the spinal cord) with a long-acting steroidal agent. Sometimes, an anesthetic is also injected to provide additional pain relief.
  • Selective nerve root block – An anesthetic medication or a neurolytic agent can be injected onto a nerve to provide a pain signal blocking effect. This is done using x-ray guidance to assure correct needle placement.
  • Kyphoplasty – When a vertebral compression fracture causes the scoliosis, a kyphoplasty may be recommended. This involves inserting a needle and balloon into the collapsed vertebra to restore height, and injecting bone cement to hold the bone in place.

Will I need surgery?

Braces often stop the curvature of scoliosis from worsening, but surgery may be required when the disease progresses to severe proportions. During the surgery, the surgeon fuses spinal bones together so they can no longer curve. Metal rods and screws are used to correct an existing curve and hold structures in place while the bones heal.