Conditions InDepth: Scoliosis

Scoliosis is an abnormal curve of the spine. Instead of going from top to bottom in a straight line, the spine may have a side-to-side “S-shaped” or “C-shaped” curve. Mild curves will not cause problems. People with very bad curves can have pain, loss of strength, and low self-esteem due to the way the curve looks. These people may also have heart and lung problems if those organs are restricted in the chest.

Children may also have kyphosis. This is an abnormal forward curve. It often happens in the upper back.


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Scoliosis often starts when a child is 8 to 10 years old, but it can start at any age. The curve can slowly get worse as the child grows.

There are many types of scoliosis.


Structural scoliosis happens due to a vertebral body defect. It is classified based on the cause:

  • Congenital—happens during fetal development and is often present at birth
  • Syndromic—happens due to an underlying health problem that affects the nerves, muscles, or bones in the back and spine
  • Idiopathic—happens without a known cause, but is likely due to a mix of many genetic factors

Scoliosis may also be classified by the age of a child when it starts, such as congenital, infant, juvenile, or adolescent.


Functional scoliosis is due to a health problem that affects the alignment of the spine. This can be due to muscle imbalances, differing leg lengths, or other health problems that cause the muscles to tense and spasm.

This type can be reversed by treating the underlying problem.



Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated June 1, 2019. Accessed July 24, 2019.
Congenital scoliosis and kyphosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated January 19, 2016. Accessed July 24, 2019.
Idiopathic scoliosis in children and adolescents. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: Updated March 2015. Accessed July 24, 2019.
Infantile and juvenile idiopathic scoliosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated March 5, 2018. Accessed July 24, 2019.
Scoliosis in children and adolescents. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: Updated December 30, 2015. Accessed July 24, 2019.
Last reviewed June 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 10/16/2019

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