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Scoliosis Prevention: Can You Prevent Scoliosis or Keep It from Worsening?

Published July 26, 2019

At one point or another many parents have told their child to sit or stand up straight. This instruction has probably been around as long as there have been slouching teenagers. But while good posture is healthy for many reasons, prevention of scoliosis is not one of them.

Scoliosis is an abnormal left-to-right curving of the spine in the shape of a letter S or C. Parents may first notice scoliosis in their child as uneven shoulders or waist, one shoulder blade appearing more prominent than the other, or one hip being higher than the other.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes the most common type of scoliosis — which is known as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and occurs in children age 10 to 18. This type often runs in families, though, so there are most likely genetic factors involved. But it’s not something that can be prevented.

Even though you can’t keep from getting scoliosis, there are steps that can be taken to prevent the curve of the spine from getting worse. This is why early diagnosis of scoliosis is important.


Can scoliosis be prevented?

Parents who have seen a friend’s child or had an older child of their own with scoliosis may wonder how to prevent scoliosis. Unfortunately, this is not possible.

Many things are commonly blamed for causing scoliosis, such as childhood sports injuries, carrying heavy backpacks, poor posture, and being overweight or obese. None of these, though, are known to cause scoliosis.

Also, activities like practicing good posture, doing exercises to strengthen the back muscles, and doing yoga or Pilates will not prevent scoliosis. However, they may relieve symptoms in people who already have scoliosis. They are also good for your health, in general.

There is one type of scoliosis that can sometimes be prevented — adult scoliosis caused by osteoporosis. This condition causes the bones to become weak and brittle, which can lead to abnormal curving of the spine. Good nutrition and regular exercise can reduce an older adult’s risk of getting osteoporosis, which can also help keep them from developing scoliosis.


How to prevent scoliosis from getting worse

While it’s not possible to keep scoliosis from happening in the first place, there are things you can do to prevent scoliosis from progressing.

One is to examine your child’s spine regularly, starting when they are an infant. If you have any concerns about what you see, talk to your doctor or another health professional. 

The symptoms of scoliosis are subtle in the beginning, so the condition may go unnoticed. Many cases of scoliosis are caught during a school scoliosis check or during a routine exam by your child’s doctor.


Mild curves of the spine don’t usually need treatment. In these cases, the doctor will continue to monitor your child to make sure the curve isn’t getting worse. Larger curves are more likely to worsen and may require treatment, such as:

  • Back brace. These are used for moderate scoliosis in children whose bones are still growing. A brace won’t reverse the curve, but it can keep it from getting worse. The most common type of brace is made of plastic and is fitted to the body. It can be worn underneath clothing.
  • Surgery. A doctor may recommend surgery for children with severe scoliosis. This can reduce the curve and also keep it from worsening. Surgery may involve fusing two vertebrae together or placing a rod in the spine to help straighten it.

These treatments may also be used in adults with scoliosis. A brace will not reverse the curving of the spine in adults, but it can reduce pain caused by scoliosis. Surgery may be needed if the curve is already severe or is continuing to progress.


Conclusion

While scoliosis is often easier to treat when it is diagnosed early, scoliosis prevention is not possible. Even activities like practicing good posture, exercising and doing yoga or Pilates cannot prevent scoliosis. The only type that may be prevented is adult scoliosis caused by osteoporosis. 

Many cases of scoliosis don’t require treatment. For moderate to severe cases, treatments can help prevent scoliosis from getting worse and relieve other symptoms such as pain.

Updated: July 29, 2019

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Contributors and Experts

Dr. Benjamin Bjerke is fellowship-trained in neurosurgery and orthopedic spine surgery and specializes in surgical procedures of the cervical spine as well as minimally invasive lumbar procedures.

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