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In about 85 percent of scoliosis cases, the cause is unknown.*

*Source: National Scoiliosis Foundation

Scoliosis Overview

Scoliosis  is a condition characterized by a sideways S- or C-shaped curve of the spine (backbone). Most cases are idiopathic. This means the cause is unknown, typically a congenital defect (one that was present at birth).

While the condition can affect those of all ages, it most commonly appears in boys and girls 10-15 years old, during their growth spurt. Children with mild curves may require no treatment. Girls are eight times more likely than boys to progress to a stage that requires treatment.

Scoliosis that occurs or is discovered after puberty is known as called "adult scoliosis.” Adult scoliosis can result from untreated or unrecognized childhood scoliosis, or it can actually arise during adulthood. The condition in adults can be of unknown cause (idiopathic) or it can be related to degeneration of the discs or arthritis. Some cases appear in adults who had previous spinal surgery for scoliosis or for degenerative low back problems.

There are two main types of scoliosis. Patients with neuromuscular scoliosis have another serious disorder such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Congenital scoliosis is present at birth and is caused by the failure of a baby’s spine bones or ribs to develop properly.

In nonstructural curves, the spine is structurally normal. The curve is temporary and doctors will seek to find and correct the cause. In structural curves the spine has a fixed curve, which may be caused by a disease, injury, infection or birth defect. A curve can be on the right or left side, or on both sides in different sections of the spine.

Severe curves can cause significant discomfort and can lead to other medical problems. An uncorrected curve can cause persistent pain and can contribute to nerve or spine damage or deformity.


The most typical symptom of scoliosis is a visible curvature of the spine, which can most easily be seen from behind. The curve makes it appear that the person is leaning to the side. Other symptoms:

  • Variation in shoulder height
  • Variation in hip height or position
  • The head does not appear centered on the body
  • Variation in shoulder blade height or position
  • A difference in the way the arms hang beside the body when the person is standing straight
  • The sides of the back appear different in height when the person bends forward
  • Backache or low back pain
  • A tired feeling in the spine after sitting or standing for a long period

Because the symptoms of scoliosis may be similar to those of other spinal conditions, it’s important to visit your WellStar physician to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of scoliosis.

WellStar neurologists and orthopedic surgeons are expert in diagnosing and treating scoliosis. Make an appointment to see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms or other reasons to believe you or a child has scoliosis.

Risk Factors

While the causes of scoliosis are not generally known, experts have identified other contributing factors including:


  • Age. Symptoms of scoliosis typically begin during the growth spurt that occurs prior to puberty.
  • Sex. Boys and girls develop mild scoliosis at about the same rate, but girls have a significantly higher risk of a worsening condition that requires treatment.
  • Family history. Having a parent or other family member with scoliosis can increase one’s chances of getting it.

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