Scoliosis symptoms and how to know if you have it

Are you worried that you may be living with scoliosis?

Scoliosis, a condition characterised by an abnormal curvature of the spine, shows up in many different ways with symptoms that can vary in intensity.

Recognising these symptoms is crucial for early detection and effective management of the condition, and can help you seek the treatment you need to get back to living life on your terms.

Let's take a look at how to know if you might be living with scoliosis, and what treatment options are available.

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a spinal condition that causes an abnormal spinal curve.

The spine typically has natural curves, but in people living with scoliosis the spine curves sideways, forming an 'S' or 'C' shape.

The degree of this abnormal curvature can range from mild to severe and can cause discomfort and other health issues if left untreated.

There are several types of scoliosis, including:

Idiopathic scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type of scoliosis, typically diagnosed in adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18.

Congenital scoliosis

Congenital scoliosis occurs due to abnormal spinal development before birth. It is present at birth and can be caused by spinal malformations.

Neuromuscular scoliosis

This type of scoliosis is associated with conditions such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord abnormalities. In this case, the abnormal curvature of the spine is a result of an underlying neuromuscular condition.

To learn more about scoliosis, visit our blog: What is scoliosis? Everything you need to know about this spine condition.

Common symptoms of scoliosis

It's important to be aware of the common symptoms of scoliosis, as early detection can lead to better management of the condition.

Some of the common symptoms include the following.

Uneven shoulders

Uneven shoulders is a common symptom of scoliosis, where one shoulder appears higher or more pronounced than the other. This asymmetry can create difficulties in daily activities, such as wearing backpacks or shoulder bags, which may rest unevenly and cause discomfort. Uneven shoulders can often make finding clothing that fit the right way challenging, which can potentially impact your self-esteem and comfort.

Uneven waist

Scoliosis can cause your waist to be noticeably uneven, with one side curving more distinctly than the other. This uneven waist can make wearing certain types of clothing, like belts or fitted dresses, uncomfortable or awkward. This symptom can also affect posture and alignment, potentially leading to discomfort during prolonged sitting or standing.

Visible spinal curvature

One of the most definitive signs of scoliosis is a visible curvature of the spine, especially noticeable when bending forward. The curvature can lead to a visible physical difference, which has the potential to become a source of self-consciousness.

One hip higher than the other

There is often a noticeable disparity in hip height or position, with one hip appearing higher. This can result in an uneven gait or posture, affecting daily activities like walking, standing, or engaging in physical exercises. It may also lead to imbalance and discomfort during activities that require symmetrical body movement.

Protruding rib on one side

The spinal curve in scoliosis can cause the ribs on one side of the body to protrude more than the other. This asymmetry can lead to discomfort when lying down or sitting against hard surfaces, as well as issues with finding clothes that fit well.

Changes in posture

Scoliosis often leads to changes in overall posture. This can manifest as a combination of other scoliosis symptoms creating a general imbalance in the way you hold your body. These postural changes occur as a response to the uneven distribution of weight caused by the spinal curvature.

Back pain and discomfort

Scoliosis often leads to back pain and discomfort, particularly in the lower and middle back areas. This pain can limit physical activities and may become a chronic issue affecting daily life. It can also impact concentration, mood, and overall quality of life, making management and treatment even more important.

Difficulty breathing

In severe cases of scoliosis, the curvature of the spine may compress the lungs, leading to difficulty breathing. This is particularly evident during physical activities or exertion. It can significantly impact a person’s ability to engage in sports or even perform daily tasks that require physical effort.


Individuals with scoliosis can experience fatigue due to the extra effort required to maintain a balanced posture. This constant strain can lead to general tiredness, affecting both work efficiency and the ability to engage in leisure activities.

Muscle imbalance

Scoliosis can lead to uneven muscle development on either side of the spine, resulting in muscle imbalance. This may affect posture and physical performance, particularly in activities and sports that require symmetrical body movement or balance.

Neurological symptoms (only classified as severe scoliosis symptoms)

Severe scoliosis can sometimes lead to neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness due to spinal nerve compression. These symptoms can affect motor skills and everyday activities, requiring immediate medical attention.

How to know if you are living with scoliosis

If you've been experiencing some of these symptoms, there is potential that you may be living with scoliosis. 

If you suspect that you or someone you know may have scoliosis, it's important to seek a proper diagnosis, as the sooner you seek professional treatment, the sooner you can get back to leading a fulfilling life.

When you visit a health care professional for your concerns around scoliosis, they'll likely conduct one or more of the following diagnosis techniques:

Physical examination

In a physical examination for scoliosis, your healthcare provider won't just look at your spine directly.

They'll take a holistic approach, starting by observing your overall posture for any noticeable asymmetries.

This might involve standing straight and relaxed, bending forward, or walking a few steps.

They'll then focus on specific areas, checking for unevenness in your shoulders or waistline.

This could indicate a side-to-side shift in the spine caused by scoliosis.

Finally, they'll assess the range of motion in your spine.

Can you bend comfortably and touch your toes?

Do you have any limitations in certain directions?

All of this information helps build a picture of potential spinal curvature and its impact on your body.

X-rays and other imaging tests

While the physical exam provides valuable clues, x-rays are the gold standard for diagnosing scoliosis.

These images reveal the spine's true structure, allowing healthcare professionals to measure the exact degree of curvature in each section.

This is crucial for determining the severity of your scoliosis and guiding treatment decisions.

Beyond x-rays, other imaging tests like CT scans or MRIs might be used in specific cases.

These offer even more detailed views of the spine and surrounding tissues, which can be helpful in identifying the cause of the scoliosis or assessing potential complications.

Treatment options for scoliosis

The treatment for scoliosis depends on the severity of the condition and the age of the individual. Some common treatment options include:

  • Observation and monitoring – for mild cases of scoliosis, especially in children and adolescents, healthcare providers may recommend regular monitoring to track the progression of the spinal curve.
  • Bracing – in cases where the spinal curve is moderate and the individual is still growing, a brace may be prescribed to help prevent further progression of the curve.
  • Surgery – severe scoliosis symptoms or cases where the spinal curve is significant may require surgical intervention. Spinal fusion is a common surgical procedure used to straighten the spine and prevent further curvature.

Along with medical treatment there are also many different coping strategies and management techniques you can try at home to help ease the impact of scoliosis on your day-to-day life.

You can learn some ways to manage scoliosis and our top tips and strategies here.

When to visit your doctor

If you suspect that you or someone you know may have scoliosis, it's crucial to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.

The sooner you visit a GP, the sooner you can access the right treatment and support – early detection and intervention are key to effectively managing your scoliosis and preventing future complications.

By being aware of the common symptoms and signs to look out for, and seeking medical attention quickly, you can take proactive steps towards looking after your health and wellbeing.