What Is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis causes a child’s spine to curve from side to side so it looks more like an S or a C than a straight line. These curves can also make the shoulders, waist or hips look uneven.

Carrying heavy bags, poor posture or sports don’t cause scoliosis. In fact, more than 80 percent of scoliosis cases don’t have a known cause. These cases, called idiopathic scoliosis, are most common in girls ages 10 to 18. But kids of all ages and genders can get idiopathic scoliosis.

  • Infantile (birth to age 3): More common in boys, may resolve as the child grows
  • Juvenile (ages 3 to 10)
  • Adolescent (ages 10 to 18): Most common in girls

Another kind of scoliosis known as neuromuscular scoliosis is less common. Neuromuscular scoliosis can develop in patients diagnosed with other conditions, including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, spinal muscle atrophy, neurofibromatosis, Angelman syndrome, Arnold-Chiari malformation (syrinx) or spinal cord trauma. Our pediatric orthopedists have more years of experience treating both idiopathic and neuromuscular scoliosis than any other provider in the Bay Area.

What are the symptoms of scoliosis?

Scoliosis usually doesn’t cause any pain. Small spine curves often go unnoticed by children and their parents, and are first detected during a school screening or by the child’s pediatrician during a regular check-up.

  • One shoulder is higher than the other, or one shoulder blade sticks out more than the other
  • Head is slightly tilted to one side of the body
  • Child’s body leans to one side
  • One leg is longer than the other
  • One hip sticks out more than the other
  • Rib cage seems uneven or crooked—one side sticks out more than the other or creates a hump on one side of the back when leaning over

Scoliosis treatment options

Scoliosis treatment options depend on a variety of factors, including your child’s age and medical history, the cause of the scoliosis, and how far it has advanced. No matter the course of treatment, the goal is to stop the progression of the curve and prevent spinal deformity.

Non-surgical scoliosis treatment options

Non-surgical scoliosis treatment is always the first choice, if possible. We work with each patient and family to select the best treatment option for the patient’s needs. This can include physical therapy, which is often available in the same location as our spine specialists. One type of physical therapy treatment offered for scoliosis is the Schroth Barcelona method. We also offer pain management, which may include acupuncture, yoga and other forms of Eastern medicine.

If bracing or casting is needed, we offer a wide variety of options, including Mehta casting for early onset scoliosis and Boston, Providence, Rigo-Cheneau and even 3-D printed braces.

Surgical scoliosis treatment options

If surgery is necessary, we will discuss all possible options in detail with you. We perform a variety of surgeries, including well-established techniques like spinal fusion and cutting-edge procedures such as MAGEC growing rods. After one surgical procedure to install the MAGEC rods, they can be lengthened using a magnet in a 10-minute office visit, helping to straighten the spine without additional surgery. Nearly all potential surgical procedures are reviewed by at least three pediatric spine surgeons to make sure that the most efficient and appropriate technique is used for each child.

Radiation reduction during scoliosis treatment

Since many children with scoliosis need 20 or more x-rays to track the progression of their spine curve during treatment, we offer the EOS low-dose imaging system, which delivers up to 50 times less radiation than a typical x-ray. EOS captures both the front and side view—from head to toe—of your child’s body at the same time. This 3D image helps our scoliosis experts make more accurate diagnoses and allows them to better track your child’s progress throughout treatment. EOS images also show the interaction between your child’s spine, hips and legs, providing a more complete picture of your child’s condition and helping us develop personalized treatment plans. Our Emeryville location has the only EOS machine in the Bay Area exclusively for pediatric patients.