About Scoliosis

Doctors at the OHSU Spine Center treat children and adults with scoliosis (spine curvature). Our spine specialists use conservative (non-surgical) scoliosis treatments such as physical therapy, and perform surgery only when necessary.

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a medical condition that causes the spine to curve sideways. When a person with a normal spine is viewed from the front or back, the spine should appear to be straight. When a person with scoliosis is viewed from the front or back, the spine curves from side to side, often in an S-shape or C-shape. In some cases, the spine rotates causing one shoulder blade to project (stick out) farther than the other. Scoliosis can affect the thoracic spine (mid-back) and lumbar spine (lower back).

Scoliosis at OHSU Spine Center in Portland, Oregon

Types and causes of scoliosis

There are two main categories of scoliosis, depending on the cause: nonstructural (functional) and structural

Nonstructural scoliosis: The spine structure is normal, but another medical condition makes it appear to curve. This type of scoliosis is usually temporary and can be relieved when the underlying condition is treated. Conditions that may cause functional scoliosis include:
  • Difference in leg length
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Muscle spasms
Structural scoliosis: The curvature of the spine is irreversible and is caused by a disease, condition, or unknown factor.

Types of structural scoliosis include:

  • Idiopathic scoliosis
  • Congenital scoliosis
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis
  • Degenerative scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis: 80% to 85% of the time, the cause of scoliosis is unknown. This is called idiopathic scoliosis. It is the most common type of scoliosis and is about two times more common in girls (2%) than boys (0.5%). There are many theories about what causes idiopathic scoliosis, but none have been found to be conclusive. There is, however, strong evidence that idiopathic scoliosis is inherited although there is no correlation between the severities of the curve from one generation to the next.

Congenital scoliosis: This type of scoliosis is caused by abnormal bone development before birth.

Neuromuscular scoliosis: A number of medical conditions that affect the nerves and muscles can cause neuromuscular scoliosis. Common conditions include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, Marfan syndrome, achondroplasia or neurofibromatosis.

Degenerative scoliosis: This type of scoliosis may result from an injury, illness, previous major back surgery, spine tumors, spinal disc degeneration, or osteoporosis. Unlike the other types of scoliosis that are found in children and teens, degenerative scoliosis occurs in older adults.

Symptoms of scoliosis

Symptoms of scoliosis may include and are not limited to:

  • Difference in shoulder height
  • Head is not centered on the body
  • Uneven hips or shoulders (difference in hip height/position, or difference in shoulder blade height/position)
  • When standing straight, difference in the way arms hang beside the body
  • When bending forward, the sides of the back appear different in height
  • Spine curves more to one side
  • Tired feeling in the spine after sitting or standing for a long time
  • Backache or low-back pain

Scoliosis symptoms can resemble other spinal conditions, or be a result of injury or infection. Always talk to a doctor if you have symptoms that concern you.

Use our Self-Referral Tool to determine which spine specialist you should meet with at the OHSU Spine Center to discuss treatment options for scoliosis. Contact us to make an appointment at 503 418-9888.