Signs and Symptoms

Progressive, severe scoliosis can produce three major problems:

  • If the part of the spine in the chest, called the thoracic spine, curves more than 90 percent, chest volume can be reduced so the heart and lung function are affected. The heart may have to pump harder, or your child may have difficulty breathing.
  • Severe curvature of the lower half of the spine that connects the chest with the pelvis, known as the lumbar spine, may push the contents of the abdomen against the chest and interfere with heart and lung function. Curvature of the lumbar spine may also alter sitting balance and posture.
  • Severe curvature of the thoracic or lumbar spine, or both, becomes visible. The tilting and twisting back, shoulders and pelvis may become unacceptable to your child. The most common scenario for idiopathic scoliosis — scoliosis with unknown cause ‐ is in girls around puberty when body image and self-esteem are developing. The condition can pose psychological and emotional challenges.

Idiopathic scoliosis usually isn't painful. About 30 percent of patients with scoliosis have back pain, which is the same percentage found in children without scoliosis. There are certain exceptions in which an associated disease of the central nervous system, such as a fluid collection in the spinal cord, may produce pain as well as scoliosis.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers


Orthopedic Clinic
1825 Fourth St., Fifth Floor, 5B
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-2967
Fax: (415) 353-2299
Appointment information

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