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back; spine; scoliosis; brace; exercise; spinal; curve;


What is scoliosis?

  • The normal spine has three curves, one in the neck, one in the upper back, and one in the lower back. It looks like a sort of stretched out letter S if you look at it from the side, but when you look from behind, the spine should look straight.
    normal spine
  • If the spine has a sideways curve, this is scoliosis (sco-li-o-sis).
    scoliosis  scoliosis
  • Some girls develop some scoliosis around puberty when they are growing fast. Usually the curve is small and does not need treatment. It does not cause back pain or other problems.
  • Only a small number of girls have curves that are large enough to need treatment.
  • It is rare for a boy to have scoliosis unless he has another health problem such as cerebral palsy (se-re-bral pall-zee)

If a girl has a big curve in her back that is not treated it can cause some health problems and back pain. It also affects how she looks as she may lean to one side like the girl in the drawing.

What causes scoliosis?

  • The cause of most scoliosis is not known. Sometimes other people in a family also have scoliosis.
  • In some children there are other health problems such as an injury, or problems with muscle control (eg cerebral palsy).
  • Uneven length of legs - one leg shorter than the other makes the hips tilt to one side and the shoulders tilt to the other side. This might look like scoliosis as a child's back may curve to balance the body. Fixing the unevenness of the legs will make the curve go away.

How to look for signs of scoliosis

Each year, in July and August, information about how to check for scoliosis is sent to Australian schools to give to girls in year 7 and year 9.

You cannot check your spine by yourself so get mum, dad or another person to help you.

  • First take off the top layers of your clothes so that your bare back can be seen. Often girls wear bathers when their back is checked.
  • Stand up straight, with your feet together and arms hanging by your side.
  • The person looking at your back checks to see if:
    • one shoulder is higher than the other
    • one shoulder blade is higher or sticks out more than the other
    • one hip sticks out more than the other.
      Checking your spine
  • Then you need to bend forward with your legs straight so that your hands are near to your feet. The person looking checks to see if one side of the back is higher than the other.
  • If there are any of these signs of possible scoliosis, you will need to have your back checked by a doctor.

What happens next?

Mostly the curve is not very big and your doctor will be able to let you know that you do not need any treatment.

Sometimes the doctor will get the child to have an x-ray to measure how big the curve is. Then other x-rays will be done later to see if the curve has become bigger.

Sometimes the curve is so large that the doctor will send the child straight off to see a specialist (orthopaedic surgeon) who can decide what treatment is needed.

What is the treatment for scoliosis?

  • Small curves may be watched by your doctor while you are growing – most don't get large enough to need treatment.
  • If the curve is large, or it is getting larger, and treatment is needed, the results of treatment are very good, especially when the curve is found early.
  • You may have to wear a spinal brace (it wraps around the outside of your chest) which often stops a curve from becoming worse. You have to wear it every day for more than a year.
  • If the curve is very big you may need to have surgery.
  • Physiotherapy (say fizz-ee-o-therap-ee) and chiropractic (say ky-row-prak-tik) treatment cannot cure scoliosis.

Kids say

"I had to wear a spinal brace for a year. I got fed up with it and there were some things I couldn't do, but I was still able to play for my netball team."

Dr Kate says 

Dr Kate

If you have scoliosis your spine is not 'weak', and there is no need to stop any exercise. You can still enjoy playing sport and keeping fit and active.



Self detection brochure

You can find out more by clicking on this link to the Self detection brochure 'Adolescent scoliosis - spinal curvature'


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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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