Scoliosis and Spinal Deformity Care | MedStar Health
A doctor places hands on a patient to examine their spine during an office visit.

Our team of expert orthopedic physicians includes nationally recognized specialists in treating scoliosis back pain and cosmetic spinal deformity. In addition to our own team, we partner with other specialists to offer you a comprehensive and multidisciplinary care approach. We always take the time to explain your condition and treatment options thoroughly. Whenever appropriate, we also encourage families to consider alternatives to surgery, including physical therapy and bracing.

What is a spinal deformity?

A healthy spine has a slight curve, but some conditions cause the spine to curve dramatically. These conditions include:

  • Scoliosis – This causes the spine to curve in the shape of a C or an S. It generally affects children, especially girls, but it can also develop in adults
  • Kyphosis – This causes your spine to curve so much that your body is hunched and rounded. Postural kyphosis results from bad posture and slouching and is often less severe. Other types of kyphosis can cause deformities to individual vertebrae and more severe rounding

Scoliosis and kyphosis may cause any of the following problems with the back and other areas of the body:

  • Lopsided hips, shoulders, and waist
  • Protruding shoulder blades
  • Inability to stand straight
  • Bulge or bump on the back

What are the causes?

Scoliosis is categorized into three groups, depending on the cause:

  • Idiopathic scoliosis – This type appears without a clear cause, although it seems to run in families
  • Structural scoliosis – When it is caused by prior injury, infection, nerve or muscle disorders, tumors, or congenital problems, it is known as structural scoliosis
  • Nonstructural scoliosis (functional scoliosis) – This type involves a curve in the spine caused by a muscle spasm or uneven leg lengths. Nonstructural scoliosis can be reversed when the underlying condition is treated

What are the symptoms?

This condition generally does not cause pain, but in some severe cases, the spinal abnormality may put pressure on surrounding spinal discs, nerves, or tissues. This can lead to spinal pain or a specific type of lower back pain called sciatica. Most commonly, a spinal irregularity or scoliosis may be recognized by the following symptoms:

  • One hip lower than the other
  • One shoulder lower than the other
  • Flat waistline on only one side of the body
  • Lopsided appearance of ribs or head

How are scoliosis and spinal deformity diagnosed?

Our orthopedic surgeons are experts at diagnosing spinal deformities. Our initial exam generally includes:

  • Medical history evaluation – This includes asking questions about medical problems that might affect the spine, including birth defects and injuries
  • Physical exam – Your orthopedist will examine your back, shoulders, waist, arms, and legs carefully, looking to see if both sides of your body are even
  • X-rays – Your orthopedist will likely order an X-ray of your spine to see and measure the extent of the curvature in your spine, and check whether any of your vertebrae are out of place

What is the best treatment?

Our team of experienced orthopedic spine surgeons spend time with all patients and their families to explain conditions and treatment options thoroughly. Whenever appropriate, we also encourage families to consider alternatives to surgery, including:

  • Physical therapy
  • Scoliosis brace/spinal brace

In some cases, non-surgical treatment options may not relieve pain or stop the spinal deformity from progressing. In those cases, we will recommend surgery. Our expert team of orthopedic surgeons will work with you and your family to determine the most effective and advanced surgical options, which may include one of the following: