Understanding the Degrees of Scoliosis

By The Spine Center

In profile, a healthy spine forms an “S” curve, but it appears straight when looked at from the back or front. If you or your child have scoliosis, the spine looks curved from all points of view, and that’s not healthy at all.

Scoliosis usually develops just before puberty, for reasons that still aren’t clear, and girls are more likely to have a curved spine than boys. You may first notice a change in your child’s spine because they’re holding themselves differently, or one shoulder appears higher than the other.

Without treatment, scoliosis tends to get worse over time. That’s why the expert physicians and spine specialists at The Spine Center at Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge in Baton Rouge, Walker, and Prairieville, Louisiana recommend monitoring scoliosis through regular checkups and X-rays. Vigilant monitoring lets your doctor change treatment recommendations based on the degree and progression of scoliosis.

A C-curve that’s less than 20 degrees

If your child has only one, slight curve (aka a “C” curve) of 20 degrees or less, we recommend an observation-only approach. Every six months, bring your child to The Spine Center at the Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge for a physical exam and an X-ray. An X-ray is the best, most accurate way to measure the spinal curve and to determine if it’s worsened to the point where it needs treatment.

Although you may be wary of exposing your child to X-rays every six months, modern X-rays emit low levels of radiation and are relatively safe, especially when compared to the risk of untreated scoliosis. As scoliosis worsens, other curves may develop, too, putting your child at risk for serious complications, such as:

  • Chronic back pain
  • A twisted, asymmetrical appearance
  • Heart and lung damage from rib cage compression 

Adults who have a slight (less than 20-degree) C-curve in their spine usually don’t need regular monitoring, other than a yearly checkup. Children who are diagnosed with scoliosis at a young age, when they still have years of growth in front of them, may benefit from wearing a brace, even if the curve is currently slight.

An S-curve or a C-curve that’s between 20-50 degrees

If your child has a moderate C-curve that ranges from 20-50 degrees or has an S-curve (i.e., a double curve), we recommend bracing the spine to keep the curve from getting worse. Also, if your child’s curve has increased more than five degrees since their last checkup, they need a brace to stop the progression. Girls are eight times more likely to need a brace or other treatment for scoliosis than boys. 

At this stage, your child should wear either a soft brace or a hard brace, depending on how severe the scoliosis is. The braces are custom-fit. Some braces must be worn both day and night, but others can be worn solely during sleeping hours. Your doctor will instruct you on procedures.

Your child can still participate in sports. They may be able to remove the brace for practice or a game, if it interferes with their movements. Once your child’s bones stop growing, they can discontinue wearing the brace.

A curve that’s greater than 50 degrees

Curves that are greater than 50 degrees or are progressing rapidly may require surgery. The doctors at The Spine Center at the Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge believe in taking the most minimally invasive approach possible, and never recommend surgery unless it’s your best option. 

If your child is young, we may insert an adjustable rod next to their spine that keeps the bones from curving, and it can be extended every six months as the child grows. For older children and adults, we recommend spinal fusion. In this procedure, our doctors fuse two or more vertebrae together so the spine stays straight and loses the ability to curve. 

Concerned about your child’s scoliosis? We can help. Get treatment, a checkup, or set up monitoring visits by calling us at 833-774-6327 or by booking an appointment online at the office nearest you.