A healthy spine runs in a straight line down your back, from your neck to your tailbone, but if you have scoliosis, there may be curves from side to side. These curves can occur in your upper or lower back and make it look like you're slouching to one side or shrugging one shoulder. If you have scoliosis, you might notice these symptoms:
- One arm or leg seems shorter than the other
- One shoulder or hip seems higher than the other
- Your head looks or feels like it's not in the center of your shoulder
- When you bend forward, your shoulders or the sides of your back may not look even.
While scoliosis can put some strain on the muscles and discs in your spine, it usually doesn't cause pain. If you have back pain, leg pain or changes in your bladder or bowel control, talk to your doctor. Another illness may be causing your symptoms.
There are two types:
- Nonstructural – This type is a side effect of another health problem, such an inflammatory disease or having legs that are two different lengths. Treating the underlying condition will often treat this kind of scoliosis.
- Structural – This type is caused by an illness, injury or other health problem that affects the structure of the spine and causes it to curve. In some cases, it's not clear what caused the spine to curve.
If you notice that you have a curve in your spine, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. You may also need imaging tests like an X-ray or MRI scan to look at the bones of your spine.
Setting your spine straight
Your doctor will work with you to find the best treatment based on how severe your scoliosis is and whether your spine is still growing. Treatments include:
- Regular checkups and observation – If your scoliosis is mild and you're still growing, the best approach might be to watch and wait to see if you outgrow it.
- Wearing a back brace – If you have a moderate curve and you're still growing, you may need to wear a special brace that guides your spine to grow straighter over time.
- Surgery – If you have severe scoliosis and wearing a back brace hasn't helped, you may need surgery to correct the curve in your spine.