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The Informed Parent


by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jan. 01, 2000

Dear Doctor Welty,

During my 15-year-old daughter's recent physical examination the doctor told us that she had scoliosis. What exactly is it? Is she going to have problems as she gets older? My neighbor said she may need surgery. What do you think?

Scoliosis is defined as a lateral, or sideways, curvature of the spine. The curvature can occur at any point along the spine but is most common in the mid-back or thoraco-lumbar region of the spine.

This curvature can occur either from a structural bone deformity or from non-structural causes, such as from posture problems, uneven legs or muscle spasm. The structural bone deformity type is the most common, and is usually idiopathic; that is, it is not due to other causes.

Idiopathic scoliosis has its peak incidence after ten years of age, and is more common in girls than in boys. Other family members may have scoliosis as well and should be screened if one family member is diagnosed with the disorder.

Your daughter may be asymptomatic during her teenage years, and yet still have progressive curvature of the spine. In severe cases there may be a restriction in growth of the rib cage, causing significant deformity and complications.

Treatment is aimed at keeping the curve in the spine from progressing to an advanced degree. Measurements are taken by your physician and are followed closely for progression.

In minor curves no treatment is needed except for close follow-up. In some instances wearing a brace may be sufficient. Electrical stimulation may also be used. In severe cases surgery and spinal fusion with rod placement may be needed.

Your daughter certainly needs follow-up from her physician in order to monitor her spine curvature and to prevent complications from her scoliosis. Consult your daughter's physician for more specifics regarding your daughter's case and any required treatment.

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