What are the symptoms of scoliosis?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Scoliosis causes the spine to appear as a wavy curve, somewhat like the letters S or C. In mild cases, the worst effect of scoliosis may be a sore back and stiffness from prolonged sitting or standing. In more severe cases of scoliosis, the curve of the spine may become so extreme that it limits the space in the chest cavity, causing breathing problems. If scoliosis is not treated, arthritis and chronic back pain may be present in adulthood.

Symptoms of scoliosis aren't always that obvious. One symptom is that the shoulders are not level, with one being higher than the other. Another is having one hip sticking out more than the other, or the ribs might be sticking out. These are all symptoms of scoliosis and clues that a person might have it.

Dr. Luke Macyszyn, MD

Due to the abnormal alignment of the spine in scoliosis, the body may be shifted to one side of the other, the shoulders may be of unequal heights, there may be an associated rib hump and, occasionally, the person may lean forward too much.

In most people, the symptoms of scoliosis include some sort of deformity or asymmetry of their shoulders, rib cage or waist. Some people also experience pain, most likely in their back. This used to be considered a rare symptom of scoliosis, but research has noted that pain is more common than previously thought.

There may not be any symptoms, but one of the best ways for a parent to detect scoliosis in their adolescent-teenager is have them bend over and see if one side of their body (usually upper back, shoulder blade area) protrudes out more than the opposite side. Early detection is important because you can start with core strengthening exercises to support the spine and prevent the curvature from increasing. Good posture (neutral spine-when the ear shoulder and hip are in alignment) is also important in keeping balance and stability with the curve.

Of course, you want to consult with a scoliosis specialist if you suspect any curvature.

Information above is based on my personal experience and my daughters...even though our degree of curvature is in the 20 degree range, it is not visible to the average person and we are both pain free. I attribute this to the core strengthening exercises and maintaining neutral spine posture that we practice.

With scoliosis there aren't a lot of symptoms. The first thing that people notice is usually a cosmetic asymmetry, whether it's slight chest/rib prominence or a difference in the waist creases. Thus, when you look at the hourglass of your lower back, you notice that things look a little bit different. The fact that it doesn't have symptoms is the reason there are school screening programs for scoliosis to try to catch curves very early when they're not that noticeable to children or their familes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.