Thumbnail image of: Scoliosis: Illustration


What is scoliosis?

The spine is made up of bones that normally stack one on top of the other in a straight line. Scoliosis means that the spine curves from side to side rather than running straight down the back. Scoliosis most often affects the bones in the upper back.

Scoliosis develops slowly. It is usually first noticed just before or during puberty when a child goes through a growth spurt. Occasionally, scoliosis is diagnosed during infancy. Females have scoliosis more often than males.

The curvature in your back will never go away, but sometimes it doesn’t cause any symptoms or problems.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of scoliosis is most often not known. It may be caused by:

  • Bones in the spine that are not shaped correctly
  • Legs that are different lengths
  • Rib muscles that pull harder on one part of the spine than another, causing the bones to twist and move out of a straight line
  • Diseases such as cerebral palsy
  • Injury to the spine

What are the symptoms?

At first, scoliosis does not cause pain and there may not be any clear symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Uneven shoulders, hips, or waist
  • A hump on one side of the back
  • One or both shoulder blades sticking out
  • A slight lean to one side
  • Back pain

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. X-rays can be taken to measure the curvature.

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider will suggest treatment based on your age, how much your spine curves, and your symptoms. You may be referred to a back specialist. If your curvature is mild, treatment may be limited to regular checkups every few months to see if the curvature is getting worse. Treatment for more severe curvature may include:

  • Back brace: Your provider may advise you to wear a brace. The brace will not make the spine straighter, but it can help keep the curve from getting worse.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy helps relieve pain and muscle spasms. It can also help you learn proper posture and keep a good range of motion.
  • Surgery: In some cases, you may need surgery with rods and screws. Surgery keeps the curvature from getting worse.

How can I help take care of myself?

Here are some of the things you can do so there is less strain on your back:

  • Keep your abdominal and back muscles strong. Get some exercise every day and include stretching and warm-up exercises suggested by your provider or physical therapist. Exercising regularly will not only help your back. It will also help keep you healthier overall.
  • Take frequent stretching breaks if you work at a desk or computer for long periods of time.
  • Practice good posture.
    • Stand with your head up, shoulders straight, chest forward, weight balanced evenly on both feet, and pelvis tucked in.
    • Whenever you sit, sit in a straight-backed chair and hold your spine against the back of the chair.
    • Use a footrest for one foot when you stand or sit in one spot for a long time.
  • Protect your back.
    • When you need to move a heavy object, don’t face the object and push with your arms. Turn around and use your back to push backwards so the strain is taken by your legs.
    • When you lift something heavy, bend your knees and hips instead of bending your back. If you do a lot of heavy lifting, wear a belt designed to support your back. Avoid lifting heavy objects higher than your waist.
    • Carry packages close to your body, with your arms bent.
    • Avoid carrying bags or backpacks that are too heavy. Be sure to carry a backpack over both shoulders, instead of slung over one shoulder. Bags with long straps that can be carried across your chest may cause less pressure on your back.
    • Lie on your side with your knees bent when you sleep or rest. It may help to put a pillow between your knees.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.

You can get more information from:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-18
Last reviewed: 2014-03-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

myTuftsMed is our new online patient portal that provides you with access to your medical information in one place. MyTuftsMed can be accessed online or from your mobile device providing a convenient way to manage your health care needs from wherever you are.

With myTuftsMed, you can:

  1. View your health information including your medications, test results, scheduled appointments, medical bills even if you have multiple doctors in different locations.
  2. Make appointments at your convenience, complete pre-visit forms and medical questionnaires and find care or an emergency room.
  3. Connect with a doctor no matter where you are.
  4. Keep track of your children’s and family members’ medical care, view upcoming appointments, book visits and review test results.
  5. Check in on family members who need extra help, all from your private account.


Your privacy is important to us. Learn more about ourwebsite privacy policy. X