Scoliosis is the most common type of spinal deformity (abnormality). Scoliosis is when the spine is abnormally curved. There are several types of scoliosis found in children, the most common of which is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Up to 5% of the population has idiopathic scoliosis.

Other forms of childhood scoliosis include: 

  • Congenital scoliosis diagnosed at birth;
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis in patients with conditions such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy; and
  • Syndromic scoliosis as part of genetic disorders such as Marfan syndrome or neurofibromatosis.

Each type of scoliosis requires a different workup and treatment plan and has a different prognosis.

More about Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis 

Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis or AIS is an abnormal curve (“S” or “C” shape) of the spine that appears in late childhood or during the adolescent growth spurt. It typically affects children who have no other medical problems. While a family history of scoliosis is common, AIS patients often do not have other family members with the condition. 

Girls should be screened twice, at ages 10 and 12, and boys once, between ages 13-14. Screening should be performed by primary care providers and is also frequently done through school screenings.

AIS can be treated, but early detection and an appointment with a pediatric spine specialist is critical. The treatment for moderate curvatures of the spine is bracing. Braces are molded out of lightweight plastics that can be worn under clothing. Children can wear them without a disruption to their daily activities. Typical brace wear is recommended between 18-23 hours daily until it is no longer needed.

For more severe curvatures, surgery is the best option. Surgery includes a spinal fusion, which typically results in a three-day hospital stay and a return to school within three weeks. Even patients with extreme curvatures can return to most sports at a high level, including playing at college and professional levels.

Scoliosis can be a devastating disease if untreated; however, the current advances in both non-surgical (bracing) and surgical treatment are enabling children with scoliosis to lead fulfilling and active lives.

David Bumpass , MD

Dr. David Bumpass is an orthopaedic spine surgeon at Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH). He specializes in treatment of a wide variety of complex spinal conditions, including scoliosis, kyphosis, neuromuscular deformities, and congenital deformities.