In children and teenagers, scoliosis often does not have any noticeable symptoms. The curvature of the spine does not cause pain, and if it is mild, it can go unnoticed.

While a healthy spine, when viewed from the side, has natural curvature, when viewed from the back the spine appears as a straight line. A person with scoliosis, however, will appear to have a lateral (side-to-side) curve in their spine when viewed from the back.

Signs of Scoliosis

Without an X-ray of the spine, there are several common physical symptoms that may indicate scoliosis. One of the most common tests for detecting scoliosis is called the Adam's Forward Bend Test, in which the individual bends from the waist as if touching the toes. The medical professional then observes for one or more of the following signs of scoliosis:

  • One shoulder is higher than the other
  • One shoulder blade sticks out more than the other
  • One side of the rib cage appears higher than the other
  • One hip appears higher or more prominent than the other
  • The waist appears uneven
  • The body tilts to one side
  • One leg may appear shorter than the other

Any type of back pain is not usually considered a scoliosis symptom.

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Pain Needs Further Investigation

Pain is not a typical symptom of scoliosis. Back pain in a child or teen who has scoliosis may indicate another problem and the child should be evaluated by a pediatrician and/or spine specialist. If a child or teen has back pain and also has scoliosis, it is very important that he or she see a doctor to find out the cause of the pain, as it is probably something other than the scoliosis causing the back pain and may require treatment.

Girls at Higher Risk

The risk of curvature progression increases during puberty when the growth rate of the body is the fastest. Scoliosis with significant curvature of the spine is much more prevalent in girls than in boys, and girls are eight times more likely to need treatment for scoliosis because they tend to have curves that have a greater probability of progression. Still, the majority of all cases of scoliosis are mild and do not require treatment.

Neurologic Pain and Numbness

Pain and/or leg numbness that signals a neurologic injury is also a very rare presenting symptom of scoliosis. In this case, spinal curvature is caused by a spinal lesion or tumor. Signs that scoliosis is caused by an injury to the spine are:

  • Patient is slightly younger (8-11) than a typical scoliosis patient
  • Patient is experiencing pain and numbness that indicates a neural impingement
  • Thoracic or thorocolumbar curve that leans to the left (levoscoliosis)

A patient with any or a combination of the above symptoms should receive diagnostic tests, such as an MRI, to discover whether there is a neurologic injury present; if so, immediate treatment is typically recommended.