Scoliosis in Children

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As your child grows, you may have noticed that there’s a difference in the height of their shoulders or hips. Or one shoulder blade sticks out more than the other, or their arms don't seem to be the same length. Scoliosis may be the cause of these issues.

Spines do have a natural front-to-back curve. But they don't typically curve sideways. When looking at your child's back, their spine should form a straight line from the neck to the buttocks. Scoliosis is when the spine also curves sideways, forming a C- or S-shape.

Treating Scoliosis at UVA Health Children's

At UVA Health Children’s, we offer the full range of care to manage your child's condition. We understand the challenges and considerations involved with treating children's scoliosis. Our goal is to maintain your child's flexibility while addressing any stress or symptoms from their scoliosis or other conditions.

We know that changes in your child's body can be alarming. If your child's doctor refers them to UVA Health Children's for scoliosis care, we'll see them within one week of referral.

Our pediatric scoliosis experts are trained in treating even the most complex cases. We'll work with you to come up with the best treatment plan for your child. Whatever the cause of your child’s scoliosis, we can help.

Whether the scoliosis is mild or severe depends on how deeply the spine curves. Treatment depends on:

  • How much the spine curves — a mild curve may only need a brace or won't need treatment
  • Your child's age — how much the spine curve changes as your child grows

Keeping a Close Watch: Observation

If your child has a mild curve, your provider may only want to monitor your child’s growth with regular X-rays. Physical therapy might help manage pain and improve your child’s posture and movement.

Bracing or Casting

If your child has a deeper spinal curve or the curve continues to grow, a brace or cast can help. Bracing won't reverse scoliosis. But, it does keep it from getting worse.

Bracing can feel uncomfortable, and children need emotional support and encouragement.

Bracing may not work for:

  • Girls who have had their period for more than a year
  • Children who are grown or are within one year of full pelvic bone growth
  • Infants

Spinal Surgery

Because scoliosis gets worse over time, your child may need surgery. Scoliosis surgery may:

  • Prevent scoliosis from getting worse
  • Straighten your child's back

Surgical options include:

  • Expanding rods (ApiFix) — Surgeons attach one or two rods along the spine. The rods are adjusted in length as the child grows, either with surgery or a remote control.
  • Spinal tethering — Surgeons thread a strong, flexible cord along the edge of the spine. Tightening the cord straightens out the spine.
  • Spinal fusion — Surgeons connect two or more spine bones (vertebrae) together so they can't move separately. Metal rods or screws hold the spine straight while the bones fuse together.

With surgery, your child may need to stay in the hospital for a few days. Recovery can take several months.

Scoliosis Types

Scoliosis isn't a life-threatening condition. Sometimes, it's caused by:

  • Injury
  • Infection
  • Tumors

However, most of the time we don’t know how your child developed scoliosis. The most common type, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, is usually diagnosed during adolescence. It doesn't have a clear cause. It’s more common in young girls.

Neuromuscular scoliosis does have a known cause. It happens when your child has other conditions, like cerebral palsy or spina bifida. They may get scoliosis because their muscles don't fully support their spine. It may be found at an earlier age, and it may run in the family.

Scoliosis may cause:

  • Chronic back pain
  • Body image issues
  • A compressed rib cage that causes breathing problems

Does My Child Have Scoliosis?

It may be hard to tell. A spine issue may show up at any time during your child’s development. Your child’s pediatrician or a screening test can detect scoliosis by looking at:

  • Walking patterns
  • Spine shape, curve, and rotation
  • Posture, including:
    • Uneven shoulders
    • Prominent shoulder blade or ribs
    • Uneven waist
    • An elevated hip
    • Leaning to one side

Full Range of Care, Here at Home

You want the best care for your child. That often means researching different clinics and hospitals. But, our scoliosis team has the tools and facilities to meet your child's needs, right here in Charlottesville, VA.

We offer:

  • X-rays and specialty imaging to get a clear picture of your child's spine
  • Orthopedic surgeons with special training in surgery on infants and children
  • Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, for recovery and addressing complications from surgery

Second Opinions & Virtual Visits

We can help you make decisions about your child’s care by offering second opinions. Contact us to set up an appointment for a second opinion.

Sometimes, getting your child ready and out the door for a doctor's appointment can be challenging. We also offer virtual visits. Your child can be seen by a doctor in the comfort of their home.