What are the Treatment Options for a Child with Scoliosis?

CME WebsitesChild Development, Special Needs Diagnoses

Scoliosis is a disorder that causes an abnormal curve of the spine, or backbone.  Usually the cause is unknown.

What is Scoliosis?

There are five types of scoliosis. Three types are based on the age at which scoliosis develops:

  • A child who is less than 3 years old is diagnosed with infantile idiopathic scoliosis.
  • A child between 3 and 10 years is diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic scoliosis.
  • Children over 10 have adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.

The two other types are defined by why the spine has a curve.

  • Functional scoliosis is when the spine is normal but the curve develops because of a problem somewhere else in the body. For example, if one leg is shorter than the other.
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis is when there is a problem when the bones of the spine are formed. This type is scoliosis develops in patients with other disorders, including birth defects, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or Marfan disease.This is the most severe form of scoliosis and requires the most aggressive treatment.

Symptoms of Scoliosis

The most common symptom is an abnormal curve of the spine. Often this change is minor and might be noticed by family members. Specific symptoms of scoliosis can include:

  • Uneven musculature on one side of the spine
  • A rib hump and/or a prominent shoulder blade, caused by rotation of the ribcage in thoractic scoliosis
  • Uneven hip and shoulder levels
  • Asymmetric size or location of breast in females
  • Unequal distance between arms and body
  • Clothes that do not hang right, i.e., with uneven hemlines
  • Slow nerve action (in some cases)

How is Scoliosis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will perform a physical examination. The doctor may order X-rays of your child’s back. On an X-ray, the spine of an individual with a typical scoliosis may look more like an S or a C than a straight line.

Scoliosis Treatment

  • The treatment is different for the various types of scoliosis.
  • If your child has functional scoliosis, which is caused by an abnormality somewhere else in the body, the other condition is treated. For example, if one leg is shorter, then having your child wear custom-made shoes can fix the problem.
  • If your child has neuromuscular scoliosis, surgery might be recommended to stop the curve from getting worse.
  • If your child has infantile idiopathic scoliosis, its possible that the condition will not need any treatment. Your child’s doctor can observe your child over time and use X-rays and measurements to determine if it is getting worse and if treatment is needed.
  • If your child has juvenile idiopathic scoliosis, braces are often recommended if the curve is not very severe. The brace can help the curve from getting worse as your child grows. In the future, surgery might be needed.
  • If your child has adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, which is the most common form, the treatment will depend on the severity of the curve.
  • In addition, physical therapy might be recommended to keep the muscles around your spine flexible and strong.