What Is Pediatric Scoliosis?

Pediatric scoliosis is a condition that causes a child's spine to curve. A child's spine that is affected by scoliosis will show evidence of lateral or side-by-side curvature, with the spine looking like an "S" or "C" and a rotation of the vertebrae (back bones), giving the appearance that the child is leaning to one side.

The Scoliosis Research Society defines scoliosis as a curvature of the spine measuring 10 degrees or greater. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, 3 to 5 out of every 1000 children develop spinal curves that are considered large enough to require treatment.

Spinal curvature from scoliosis may occur on the right or left side of the spine, or on both sides in different sections. Both the thoracic (mid) and lumbar (lower) spine may be affected by scoliosis. Scoliosis is a type of spinal deformity and should not be confused with poor posture.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, in cooperation with the Scoliosis Research Society, describes three different types of scoliosis that can occur in children:

1. Congenital: Occurs during fetal development and is often caused by one of the following:

  • Failure of the vertebrae to form normally
  • Absence of vertebrae
  • Partially formed vertebrae
  • Lack of separation of the vertebrae
2. Neuromuscular: This type of scoliosis is associated with many neurological conditions, especially in those children who do not walk, such as:
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spina bifida
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Paralytic conditions
  • Spinal cord tumors
  • Neurofibromatosis: A genetic condition that affects the peripheral nerves that cause pigmented lesions to appear, called café-au-lait spots
3. Idiopathic: Idiopathic means the cause is unknown. There are three types of idiopathic scoliosis:
  • Infantile: This type of scoliosis occurs from birth to age three. The curve of the vertebrae is to the left and it is more commonly seen in boys. Typically, the curve resolves as the child grows.
  • Juvenile: Juvenile scoliosis occurs in children between ages 3 and 10.
  • Adolescent: This type of scoliosis occurs in children between ages 10 and 18. This is the most common type of scoliosis and is more commonly seen in girls.

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital is a collaborative program between Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Lurie Children's and its affiliated physician groups. The physicians participating in this program are neither agents nor employees of Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital or Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital.