Symptoms of Scoliosis

How to recognize scoliosis in children and adults

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Scoliosis is a spinal deformity, but that doesn’t mean it has obvious signs and symptoms. Scoliosis symptoms run a full spectrum—from painless and subtle to debilitating with marked physical symptoms. Scoliosis develops gradually; in fact, some adults had it as children but didn’t realize it until many years later. Children and adults may experience different things as a result of scoliosis, so this article will cover both pediatric scoliosis symptoms and adult scoliosis symptoms.

Scoliosis Symptoms in Children
Scoliosis isn’t always an easy condition to spot, and you may not notice any signs until you see your child jumping into a swimming pool or the school nurse notices something in an annual screening.

Don't blame yourself for "missing" the signs and symptoms. At a time when your child's body is changing so much, it may be difficult to notice the following symptoms as they gradually develop:

  • Whole body leans to one side
  • Head appears off-center on the body
  • Uneven shoulder height, and one shoulder blade sticks out more than the other
  • One hip sticks up higher than the other (parents often first notice possible scoliosis when they see that one pant leg is shorter than the other)
  • Uneven rib cage
  • Rib protrusion on one side of the spine

Also, pay attention to any other pain-related symptoms your child reports, such as "growing pains," fatigue, back pain, and leg pain.

three-dimensional (3D) CT scan from the front of an 18-year-old female with severe adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS)Three dimensional rendering of a severe adolescent idiopathic scoliosis case.

Adult Scoliosis Symptoms
Adults with scoliosis may experience the same symptoms as children with the disorder. In particular, a rib prominence (a humpback) may be apparent in adult scoliosis. You may notice your shirts don't fit quite right or that one of your pant legs is longer than the other.

Where adult scoliosis tends to differ from pediatric cases is regarding pain. Adult cases of scoliosis often have a degenerative element—that means the degeneration of spinal discs and joints from years of wear and tear can cause the spine to curve abnormally.

Adult scoliosis can cause pronounced pain, especially if you have scoliosis in your lumbar spine (low back). Low back pain and stiffness are two of the most common symptoms of adult scoliosis.

Adults may also experience pinched nerves as a result of scoliosis, causing neurological symptoms like numbness and shooting pain down the legs. Many adults with scoliosis also report muscle fatigue in their back and legs.

adult degenerative lumbar scoliosisAdult degenerative scoliosis in the low back (lumbar spine).

Regaining Your Quality of Life with Scoliosis
Scoliosis symptoms, while subtle at first, can wreak havoc on your quality of life. For a child, learning you have scoliosis can be a scary experience and may damage self-esteem. For adults, the pain caused by scoliosis can make it hard to engage in daily activities you once enjoyed.

But, there is good news: Treatments are available to help you live better with scoliosis. Bracing has proven successful for children, and surgery is also a viable option. You can read more about surgical approaches in our articles on scoliosis surgery for children and scoliosis surgery for adults.


Updated on: 05/22/18
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Causes of Scoliosis
Mary Rodts, DNP
Associate Professor
Rush College of Nursing
Chicago, IL
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Causes of Scoliosis

There are many types of scoliosis such as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and adult degenerative scoliosis. Causes of scoliosis can be congenital, syndromic, neurological, muscular and sometimes not known, which is called idiopathic.
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