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Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine develops a side-to-side curve in an S- or C-shape. It can occur in both children and adults.

Scoliosis: what you should know

  • In children, scoliosis often does not cause any symptoms (such as pain) other than the curve in the spine.
  • Scoliosis in adults can either result from an existing scoliosis from childhood or develop as you age (known as degenerative scoliosis). In adults, the most common scoliosis symptom is pain.  
  • In functional scoliosis, muscle spasms, inflammation or different leg lengths can cause spine curvature. In these cases, the curvature can go away, or resolve, if the underlying problem is addressed.
  • For children and adults, scoliosis surgery is typically regarded as the last option after other nonsurgical approaches have been tried.

How can I get help for scoliosis?

For adults: Call your primary care doctor if your pain is not relieved by rest, ice or heat, or over-the-counter medication within a couple weeks.

For children: Contact your pediatrician or visit a scoliosis specialist if your child has any of the following:

  • A curve in the back
  • The appearance that he or she is leaning to one side
  • Shoulders, shoulder blades and hips that seem uneven
  • The appearance of a rib hump on one side when you look at the back

Care for scoliosis at Rush

Scoliosis treatment at Rush depends on the following:

  • Type of scoliosis
  • Degree of curvature
  • Amount of pain (in adults)
  • Age of the patient
  • Extent to which the curve is affecting your or your child’s quality of life

Scoliosis experts at Rush will help you determine the best course of action for you or your child.

For children:

  • Monitoring: Patients with mild scoliosis may only need periodic checkups to assess whether the curve is getting worse.
  • Scoliosis brace: A brace is often the best option for children who are still growing. The goal of the brace is to stop the curve from progressing.
  • Spinal fusion: Children with a more severe curve often benefit from spinal fusion to straighten the spine. Spinal fusion repositions the spine into a straightened position using metal rods that are attached to the vertebrae (spinal bones).
  • Growing-rod procedure for young children: In young children, scoliosis specialists at Rush occasionally will use a single rod that allows for continued growth of your child's spine. This type of rod requires that your child return every six to nine months to have the rod lengthened to keep up with his or her growth. Once your child stops growing, scoliosis specialists at Rush remove the “growing rod” and perform a typical spinal fusion.

For adults:

  • Pain management: For adults with scoliosis, the primary treatment goal is to alleviate pain. If the pain is minor or comes and goes, your scoliosis specialists may recommend one or more of the following:
    • Over-the-counter pain medication
    • Observation (working with your physician to monitor your pain)
    • Epidurals or nerve blocks, injections that disrupt pain signals by decreasing inflammation
    • Exercise or physical therapy
  • Physical therapy: Exercises to promote flexibility and strengthen the core muscles in your abdomen and back can help you address pain. Additionally, physical therapy can increase your strength and flexibility to help you recover faster if surgery is needed.
  • Surgery: Scoliosis specialists at Rush use surgery to relieve nerve pressure or help fuse together segments of the spine (spinal fusion), depending on the symptoms of the patient.
    • Sometimes adult scoliosis needs to be fused like children with scoliosis are, using two metal rods to stabilize and correct the curve.
    • On occasion, scoliosis specialists at Rush can perform some of these surgeries through minimally invasive approaches. Minimally invasive scoliosis surgery often allows for less pain, shorter recovery and a faster return to normal activity.

Why choose Rush for scoliosis care

  • Scoliosis specialists at Rush have experience with, and in some cases pioneered, minimally invasive scoliosis correction.
  • Rush is one of the nation’s leading referral centers for adults with scoliosis.
  • Scoliosis specialists at Rush have more than 40 years experience treating children and adults with scoliosis and other spinal deformities.
  • The orthopedics and neurosurgery programs at Rush are consistently ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. 

Departments and programs that treat this condition