Scoliosis FAQs for Kids

If you’ve just been diagnosed with scoliosis, you may have questions. Here are some answers:

Q: What is Scoliosis?

A: When viewed from the front or back, your spine should look straight. If you have scoliosis, your spine has developed an S-shaped curve from side to side. Most people with scoliosis live no differently than anyone else—they can play sports and be physically active. But if a curve becomes worse over time, your doctor may decide to treat it.

If you have scoliosis, you might not even notice anything wrong with your back. Most kids who have scoliosis never feel any pain, and often others do not notice the curve. Your scoliosis may be noticeable when you bend over, and one shoulder may appear higher than the other, or your hips may be uneven. You may also have a something called a rib hump, which is a hump on the back that sticks up when you bend your spine forward.

How your doctor decides to treat your scoliosis will depend on your age, how mature your skeletal system (bone structure) is, and the size of your curvature.

Q: Will it get worse?

A: If you have just learned you have scoliosis, you may wonder if your curve will continue to grow bigger. Not even your doctor can answer this question with absolute certainty. But your doctor can make predictions based on the location and size of the curve, your age, and your skeletal maturity (or bone growth).

Studies of scoliosis have shown that:

  • Curves in the middle of your back (thoracic spine) are more likely to get worse than those in the lower back (lumbar spine). The likelihood of a curve getting worse is linked to the size of the curve. Larger curves are more likely to grow even bigger. If a curve develops at a young age or, for example before a girl begins her period, the curve is more likely to grow.
  • The more mature your skeletal system is, the less likely the curve will continue to grow.

Q: How did I get scoliosis?

A: The most common type of scoliosis first appears at around ages 10 to 15. About 10 percent of kids this age have some degree of scoliosis. Fortunately, most cases of scoliosis at this age involve small curves that do not require a doctor's care. Both boys and girls can get scoliosis; however, scoliosis usually progresses much more rapidly in girls than in boys.

The cause of most types of scoliosis is still unknown. Scientists have explored many different theories to explain why some kids get scoliosis while others do not get it. But we do not know what causes scoliosis, nor how to prevent it. Since scientists do not know what causes scoliosis, you cannot do anything—or could have done anything before—to prevent you from getting scoliosis.

Q: Can you make me better?

A: If you have just learned you have scoliosis, you’re probably feeling worried.  Finding it sooner, rather than later (called early detection) makes scoliosis much easier to treat. If you are not yet a teenager, your doctor has many options to treat your scoliosis and to try to prevent the curve from growing. For example, your doctor can do the following to help you:

  • Monitoring: If you have a small curve in your spine, your doctor will probably keep an eye on your scoliosis. Your doctor can watch and keep track of most small curves without X-rays. However, if a curve begins to get larger, it may be necessary to take X-rays every four to six months.
  • Exercise: Although exercise will not make your curve get better or worse, it can help keep your muscles flexible. Therefore, exercise is always good for you. You can likely remain fully active and continue to participate in any sports and activities without restriction.
  • Bracing: If you have a medium-sized curve—especially if you are still growing, and the curve will most likely get bigger without treatment—your doctor may prescribe a brace for your back. Your doctor will explain to you how to wear the brace, and how many hours a day you will need to wear it.

Like many kids with scoliosis, you might feel self-conscious about wearing a brace. Though the brace can help the curve from getting worse, it may take some time for you and your family to get used to it. If you are a pre-teen or teenager, we understand that appearance may be very important to you. Wearing clothing a size or two larger than usual may hide the brace from view.

Even if you feel self-conscious, it is important to wear the brace every day for the number of hours your doctor has decided will help you. Wearing your brace will help keep the curve in your back from getting larger. Talk to your family about how you feel about the brace so they can look for ways to help.