What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine. It can have a variety of causes. Some patients are born with it (congenital scoliosis). Others develop it secondary to neurologic conditions, skeletal dysplasias, metabolic bone diseases, fractures or degeneration of the spine with age. The most common type of scoliosis is called idiopathic scoliosis. The exact cause of this type of scoliosis is unknown, but there is almost certainly a genetic component of it in most cases. It can occur in the infantile age group (less than 5 years of age), the juvenile age group (age 5-10) or the adolescent age group (older than 10). Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis is the most common form of scoliosis that we see.

  1. Females are more commonly affected by scoliosis. Although males can have scoliosis, progressive scoliosis requiring treatment is 10x more common in adolescent girls than boys.
  2. There is no way to prevent scoliosis from occurring. Exercise, good nutrition or sports involvement does not seem to prevent a curvature from developing. Physical therapy can be used as an adjunct to brace treatment in patients with scoliosis, but by itself exercise programs do not seem to prevent curve progression.
  3. There is no correlation between heavy backpack use and spinal curvature. Again, genetics probably plays a major role. Although several studies have documented the relationship between back pain and heavy backpacks, there has never been any causal relationship between scoliosis and carrying a heavy backpack.
  4. Scoliosis, especially minor curves, does not typically cause back pain. Therefore it can be a relatively silent problem unless looked for by the child’s pediatrician or during a school screening program if present in your child’s school. Most pediatricians are very aware of checking for a spinal curvature in pre-adolescent and adolescent children. Make sure your child’s doctor looks for this at every well child visit!
  5. Once detected, scoliosis of greater than 20-25 degrees in a growing child can be effectively treated in a brace. Bracing does not make scoliosis go away. But it is effective in preventing curve progression if fitted and worn properly. Surgery is generally indicated in curves greater than 50 degrees. Early detection and appropriate non operative treatment is designed to prevent progression into the surgical range.

To learn more about Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis, check out this infographic brought to you by the HSS Lerner Children’s Pavilion

Dr. John S. Blanco is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion. He specializes in scoliosis correction (anterior and posterior), clubfoot correction, pediatric fracture management, and management of neuromuscular conditions. Throughout his career, Dr. Blanco has published numerous articles on a variety of topic including scoliosis, pediatric fracture management, slipped capitol femoral epiphysis and cerebral palsy.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.


  1. Thanks for this beautiful piece on scoliosis or better called hunchback. I’ve battled with this a severe type of this condition all of life,at least d last time l checked give me almost 70degrees. please what can you suggest to me to improve my condition. Am already 41years old

    1. Hi Kehinde, thank you for reaching out. Dr. John Blanco, Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon, says: “You should consider surgical intervention unless you have a medical condition preventing injury. You should seek a consultation with an adult scoliosis expert. You are not too old for surgery and you are too young to live the rest of your life with pain and disability.” If you wish to receive care at Hospital for Special Surgery, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  2. My 17 year old daughter has scoliosis in two parts of her spine. She had Physical Therapy. She does suffer from back pain. The last X-rays showed curves stable from X-rays from 6 months before that. The pediatric specialist does not plan on further follow up unless we need him. Why would they not do more X-rays in 6 months or even a year to be sure curves not increasing. Do you think I should get second opinion ?!?!?! I wanted to add scoliosis runs in our family. I have and my niece has.

    1. Hi Carol, thank you for reaching out. Dr. John Blanco, Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon, says: Scoliosis should not be a cause of severe back pain, especially if it is not severe scoliosis. It can cause mild to moderate back pain, which is usually responsive to PT. The decision on how often to follow a patient with scoliosis is based on age, remaining growth, magnitude of deformity and symptoms. Although I assume your daughter is finished growing, you do not mention the magnitude of her curve. Her ongoing symptoms warrant further follow up and possibly further evaluation as to the cause of her pain. It would be best for you and your daughter to consult with a physician to determine the best course of treatment. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

If you’d like to consider HSS for treatment, please contact our Patient Referral Service at 888-720-1982. For general questions and comments, reach us on Facebook or Twitter.