What is scoliosis? Everything you need to know about this spine condition

Scoliosis is a very common medical condition that causes abnormal spinal curvatures, which can result in some pain or discomfort.

If you're living with scoliosis, instead of a straight spine, your spine may curve to the side in an S or C shape.

It is most commonly diagnosed in adolescents, although it can affect people of any age.

Read on to learn more about how to know if you or your child might have scoliosis, the different types of this spine condition that exist, and the treatment options and support available.

Remember, it is important to seek medical attention if you think you or your child may have scoliosis, as early detection and treatment can help prevent the condition from worsening.

Symptoms of scoliosis

Symptoms of scoliosis can range from extremely mild, where everyday life isn't impacted at all, to very severe, where daily tasks can become painful.

The main physical symptoms of scoliosis can include:

  • Uneven shoulders
  • Uneven waist
  • One hip higher than the other
  • Visible curvature of the spine

If you're living with scoliosis, these symptoms can have a significant impact on everyday life, such as making physical activities painful or difficulty finding clothes that fit properly.

In extreme cases, scoliosis can cause severe pain, difficulty breathing, and even organ damage, making daily life even more difficult.

If you believe you are experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your GP for an assessment.

Types and causes of scoliosis

There are three main types of scoliosis:

  • Congenital scoliosis – congenital scoliosis is a result of malformations in the bones of the spine that occur during foetal development and are present at birth.
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis – caused by diseases or conditions that affect the muscles and nerves, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.
  • Idiopathic scoliosis – idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type of scoliosis, where the cause of spine curvature is unknown.
  • Degenerative scoliosis – degenerative scoliosis is caused by age-related changes in the spine, such as arthritis or disc degeneration.

Risk factors

There are several risk factors that mean you may be more likely to be diagnosed with scoliosis, including:

  • Age – adolescents aged 10-15 are more likely to develop scoliosis than any other age group
  • Gender – girls are more likely to develop scoliosis than boys
  • Family history – those with a family history of scoliosis are more likely to develop the condition

It is important to be aware of these risk factors and to be mindful of any changes in your, or your child's spine that could indicate the presence of scoliosis.


Scoliosis is typically diagnosed through a physical examination by your healthcare provider.

During the exam, your doctor will look for any visible curvature of the spine, as well as any changes in shoulder height or hip positioning.

Your doctor may also ask you to bend forward to check for any abnormal curves.

In some cases, an x-ray or other imaging tests may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Ultimately, your doctor will be able to determine if you have scoliosis and its severity, and recommend the best course of treatment for your situation.

Treatment options for scoliosis

The good news is, if you are living with this spine condition, there are plenty of treatments available including both surgical and non-surgical options.

Non-surgical treatments

Non-surgical treatment options for scoliosis include:

  • Physical therapy – can help to strengthen the muscles around the spine and improve posture
  • Exercise – can help to maintain muscle strength and flexibility
  • Bracing – can help to slow the progression of the condition by providing support and stability to the spine

Additionally, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and yoga can all be beneficial in helping to manage the symptoms of scoliosis.

It is important to discuss all treatment options with your doctor before starting any treatment plan.

In some cases, a combination of treatments may be recommended.

For example, physical therapy and bracing may be used together to provide you with the best outcome.

Additionally, lifestyle modifications such as avoiding activities that may worsen the condition, avoiding carrying heavy items, and modifying your sleeping position can help reduce pain and improve your quality of life.

Surgical treatments

Surgery may be recommended for severe cases of scoliosis.

The goal of surgical treatment is to reduce the curvature of your spine, reduce pain, and improve your posture.

Surgery is typically only recommended when the spinal curve is greater than 40 degrees and the patient is still growing.

Surgery may also be recommended if the patient is experiencing severe pain or the spinal curvature is progressing quickly.

In some cases, surgery may be recommended to prevent neurological damage.

Surgical treatment options in severe cases include:

  • Spinal fusion – spinal fusion is a procedure that involves joining two or more vertebrae together to create a single, solid bone.
  • Expanding rod – expanding rod systems are used to correct a spinal curve by gradually lengthening the spine over time. This is done by surgically inserting one or two rods on either side of the spine, and periodically lengthening the rods as needed.
  • Vertebral body tethering – a minimally invasive procedure that uses a tethering device to correct spinal deformities.

If you're wondering whether you need surgical treatment for scoliosis, visit your health care provider – they will be able to help you determine what treatment option is best for your situation.

When to see a doctor

If you have any concerns at all about your spine, or believe you might be living with scoliosis, it is important to see a GP as soon as possible.

They can provide you with a diagnosis and treatment plan that will help you best manage your condition.

If you're living with scoliosis, there are also plenty of other professional supports out there to help you get back to living your life to the fullest, such as a Disability Employment Services provider like APM.

To learn more about working with scoliosis, and some of the best jobs for people living with this spine condition, head to our blog: 8 of the best job ideas for people living with scoliosis.