Understanding Idiopathic Scoliosis in Adolescents

If you’ve learned that your child has Scoliosis, you’d want to understand what idiopathic Scoliosis in Adolescents is, from what causes it, its diagnosis, and treatment options. Scoliosis is a medical condition characterised by an abnormal curvature of the spine. Idiopathic scoliosis is a type of scoliosis with an unknown cause. It is the most common type of scoliosis and affects children, and can carry through into adulthood. While the cause of idiopathic scoliosis is unknown, several factors may contribute to its development. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the symptoms of idiopathic scoliosis in adolescents to help you better understand this condition.

What is Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis?

The most common form of paediatric scoliosis that occurs in individuals between the ages of 10 to 18, is Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). It is called idiopathic because the exact cause of the condition is unknown. The condition is characterised by an abnormal curvature of the spine, which can cause the spine to twist and turn into a “C” or an “S” shape. This abnormal curvature can lead to several symptoms, including pain, limited mobility, and breathing difficulties in severe cases.

There are several different types of idiopathic scoliosis based on the age of onset and the severity of the curvature. Infantile idiopathic scoliosis develops in children under three years of age and is the least common type of idiopathic scoliosis. Juvenile idiopathic scoliosis develops in children between three and nine years of age and is characterised by a more progressive spinal curvature which can become quite severe. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, as the name implies, starts just before or after puberty. 

Causes of Idiopathic Scoliosis in Adolescents

The exact cause of idiopathic scoliosis is unknown, however, several factors may contribute to the development of the condition. These include:


    1. Genetics: Idiopathic scoliosis tends to run in families, which suggests that there may be a genetic component to the condition. However, the exact genes contributing to idiopathic scoliosis are unknown.

    1. Abnormal growth patterns: Some researchers believe that idiopathic scoliosis may be caused by abnormal growth patterns in the spine, which can lead to an abnormal curvature.

    1. Neurological disorders: Some evidence suggests that neurological disorders may contribute to the development of idiopathic scoliosis. However, this link still needs to be better understood.

Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is believed by researchers to be caused by many genes. Some of these genes may cause the disorder, while others determine the severity of the spinal curvature and whether it will progress or remain stable. Despite extensive research into the genes associated with the condition, clear and consistent genetic links have yet to be established.

Symptoms of Idiopathic Scoliosis

The symptoms of idiopathic scoliosis can vary depending on the severity of the curvature. Mild scoliosis cases may not cause symptoms, while more severe cases can cause pain and limited mobility. Here’s some of the most common symptoms of idiopathic scoliosis:


    1. Uneven shoulders: One of the most common symptoms of scoliosis is uneven shoulders. This is because the curvature of the spine can cause one shoulder to sit higher than the other. 

    1. Uneven pelvis: Like uneven shoulders, scoliosis can cause one side of the pelvic girdle to sit higher than the other. This can lead to a noticeable apparent difference in the length of the legs.

    1. Back pain: Scoliosis can cause pain in the back, especially in the lower back. The pain may be mild or severe and can be aggravated by physical activity.

    1. Limited mobility: As scoliosis progresses, it can limit the range of motion in the spine, making it difficult to perform certain movements.

    1. Breathing difficulties: In severe cases of scoliosis, the curvature of the spine can compress the lungs, making breathing difficult.

Diagnosis of Idiopathic Scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis is typically diagnosed during a routine physical exam. During the exam, the healthcare professional may ask the patient to bend forward to check for any spinal curvature.

If scoliosis is suspected, an X-ray or other imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis and determine the degree of curvature.

Treatment for Scoliosis

The treatment of idiopathic scoliosis depends on the degree of curvature and the age of onset. Mild cases of scoliosis may not require treatment, with moderate cases managed conservatively, and more severe cases may require surgical intervention.

Treatment options may include:


    • Observation: In cases of mild scoliosis, the doctor may recommend regular observation to monitor the curvature and ensure that it does not worsen.

    • Back Bracing: Braces can be used to prevent the progression of scoliosis, particularly in adolescent cases. The type of brace used will depend on the degree of curvature and the age of onset.

    • Surgery: In cases of severe scoliosis, surgery may be required to correct the curvature. This type of surgery is extensive, and involves the use of metal rods or screws to straighten and fuse the spine and hold it in place.

It is important to note that the earlier scoliosis is diagnosed, the better the chances of successful treatment. Regular check-ups and screenings can help ensure that scoliosis is detected early and appropriate treatment can be initiated.

Early Detection is Key

Detecting scoliosis early is crucial since research has found that the age of detection is directly linked to achievable outcomes. Modern bracing technology has made conservative treatment highly effective in treating juvenile and adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. While certain principles remain the same, advances in technology, research, and materials have enabled spine specialists to treat and manage spine deformities that were previously only managed surgically or left untreated, leading to lifelong deformity, pain, and disfigurement. If your child has been diagnosed with scoliosis, restoring quality of life is possible. Click here to make an appointment.