Symptoms of scoliosis, characterized by a lateral curve in the spine, present significant health concerns for individuals of all ages. Symptoms of scoliosis can range from exhibiting noticeable posture curvature and physical discomfort to minor back pain. Emerging late in childhood or adolescence, scoliosis has signs, symptoms, and potential complications to be on the lookout for. Continue reading to learn more!
Scoliosis is a sideways spine curvature. The condition causes the spinal vertebrae to curve or twist, forming an “S” or “C” shape rather than a straight line down the middle of the back. Some people with scoliosis may have no visible symptoms, while others have visible postural changes, such as leaning to one side or a protruding shoulder blade on one side of the body.
Scoliosis can affect people of all ages but often develops during late childhood or adolescence. This article provides an in-depth look at the signs and symptoms of scoliosis and associated complications.
What Are the Symptoms of Scoliosis?
Mild scoliosis may not cause symptoms. However, people with moderate to severe curves may experience symptoms, including:
- A visible curve in the spine when viewed from behind
- Uneven shoulders, waist, rib cage, or hips
- A protruding shoulder blade on one side of the body
- Leaning to one side when standing
- Back pain
- Uneven spacing between the arms and body when standing
- Head not centered directly above the pelvis
- Feeling tired or weak after standing or sitting for long periods
- Changes in the appearance or texture of the skin over the spinal curve (e.g., dimpled, hairy patches, skin tone differences)
Severe scoliosis can restrict spine and chest mobility, affecting lung function. As a result, some people with scoliosis may have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or fatigue quickly during physical activity.
Are the Signs Different In Children?
Children with scoliosis generally experience the same signs and symptoms as adults. The primary difference is most children with scoliosis do not experience back pain. Scoliosis can be challenging to detect, and many parents first notice the curvature when they see their child’s clothes fit unevenly, seeming to hang differently on one side. Healthcare providers often detect spinal curves in children during routine school screenings or regular medical checkups.
Is Scoliosis Painful?
Scoliosis pain varies from person to person. Some people with scoliosis may experience pain, while others have none. People often describe scoliosis pain as aching, muscle stiffness, soreness, or a dull and persistent backache. The pain usually begins gradually and may be localized to the affected area of the spine or radiate to the surrounding muscles or other body parts.
Several factors can influence the development of scoliosis pain, including:
- Muscular imbalance: As the spine curvature worsens, it can lead to muscular imbalances, with some muscles becoming overstretched and weakened, while others become chronically tight. Muscle imbalances can strain the muscles, ligaments, and joints and cause pain and discomfort.
- Compressed nerve: As the spine curves and twists, spinal vertebrae may shift out of their normal alignment and compress or irritate nerves that pass through the spinal column. When a spinal nerve is pinched or compressed, it can cause pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness that may radiate to the arms, ribs, or legs, depending on which part of the spine is curved.
- Disk compression: Abnormal curvature of the spine can compress or irritate the spinal disks and surrounding soft tissues, leading to inflammation and pain.
If you have signs and symptoms of scoliosis, a healthcare provider will perform a physical examination to provide a diagnosis. The diagnostic process often begins with discussing your medical history and symptoms, such as uneven shoulders, postural differences, or pain and discomfort. A healthcare provider may order imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis and assess the severity of the spinal curve.
Complications of Scoliosis
If scoliosis is left untreated, the spinal curvature can worsen, leading to long-term complications affecting your health and well-being. Potential scoliosis complications include:
- Impaired lung function: Severe scoliosis can prevent the lungs from fully expanding and decrease lung function, leading to difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.
- Back pain: Abnormal curvature of the spine can cause muscle imbalances and strain surrounding spinal structures (e.g., joints, ligaments, discs), resulting in back pain and discomfort.
- Reduced flexibility: As scoliosis progresses, it can limit the spine’s range of motion and flexibility, making it challenging to perform certain physical activities and affecting posture and balance.
- Emotional stress: Scoliosis can have emotional and psychological effects, especially when the spinal deformity is more noticeable. Some people with scoliosis may experience self-consciousness, body image issues, and reduced self-esteem, leading to social and emotional challenges.
- Heart problems: Severe scoliosis, where the curvature significantly affects the rib cage, can strain the heart leading to reduced blood flow and an increased risk of heart problems (e.g., mitral valve prolapse).
When to See a Healthcare Provider for Scoliosis Symptoms
See a healthcare provider for an evaluation if you or your child has signs or symptoms of scoliosis, such as uneven shoulders, a tilted waist, or the body leaning to one side when standing. This is especially important if you experience persistent or recurring back pain. A healthcare provider will evaluate your symptoms, perform a physical examination, and order imaging tests to confirm or rule out scoliosis.
If you have a scoliosis diagnosis, regular check-ups with a healthcare provider help ensure your treatments are effective and the curvature does not worsen. During routine visits, a healthcare provider will assess changes in symptoms or pain, monitor the progression of the curvature, and provide guidance and treatment recommendations based on the severity of your scoliosis.
Scoliosis is when the spine is abnormally curved, forming an “S” or “C” shape. Symptoms vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the curvature. If left untreated, scoliosis can lead to complications such as worsening curvature, impaired lung function, chronic back pain, and reduced flexibility and range of motion.
If you have scoliosis symptoms, see a healthcare provider. Early detection and treatment can help minimize complications and optimize treatment outcomes.