How to Tell if You Have Scoliosis

March 5, 2024

By Justin Field, M.D.
Dr. Field is a board certified, fellowship trained orthopedic spine surgeon. Dr. Field has specialized training in minimally invasive spine surgery and motion sparing technologies, such as cervical and lumbar Artificial Disc Replacement, as well as non-fusion stabilization. In addition, he has extensive training in adult deformity correction and treatment.



Scoliosis is a condition that causes a sideways spinal curvature. While it commonly appears in young children, it can also begin causing symptoms during adulthood. Scoliosis can be challenging to diagnose, but understanding the signs can help you recognize it faster and seek medical advice concerning treatment. 

People with mild cases can typically continue without treatment, but some patients with more acute curvature can benefit from bracing or surgery. Minimally invasive surgical solutions can increase your comfort and mobility if you have scoliosis. 

What Is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a spinal abnormality affecting approximately 3% of Americans. It causes the spine to take on a C or S shape, and can affect different areas of the spine. Some people with scoliosis have minimal or mild spinal curvature, while others have significant curvature that requires specialized treatment or surgery.

Most scoliosis cases are idiopathic — in other words, health professionals are unsure what causes it. Despite the unexplained cause, the medical community believes several factors such as hormones, genes and structural cell changes play a role in idiopathic scoliosis development. Spinal injuries, neuromuscular diseases and tumors can cause non-idiopathic scoliosis. Traumatic injuries and tumors can change the spine, and some neuromuscular diseases alter how nerves communicate with muscles, weakening the muscles surrounding the spine.

Congenital scoliosis develops in the womb before birth, and neuromuscular scoliosis occurs due to a muscular or neurological condition such as cerebral palsy, a spinal cord injury or muscular dystrophy.

Warning Signs of Scoliosis

You should visit a spine specialist if you notice the following scoliosis symptoms.

  • Uneven shoulders: Scoliosis can push one shoulder higher than the other. 
  • Protruding shoulder blade: A curved spine can also push one shoulder blade outward in the upper back, making it more visible or prominent than the other.
  • Higher rib cage or hip: Scoliosis can also affect your hip or rib cage alignment, causing asymmetry where one side is higher. 
  • Pain: Significant spine curvature can cause back pain as it progresses.
  • Challenges in finding clothing that fits: Some scoliosis cases cause significant misalignment, making it hard to find well-fitting clothes.

How to Get a Scoliosis Diagnosis

A spine specialist has the knowledge and experience to test you for scoliosis and make an accurate diagnosis. When you visit a spine specialist, your provider may order an X-ray to get a comprehensive view of your spine and evaluate the size of the curve. Spine specialists also use a scoliometer to measure your spine’s curvature, determine if you require treatment and track curvature progression through further observation. 

Scoliosis Treatment

If a spine specialist diagnoses you with scoliosis, they may recommend one or all the following treatments depending on your spinal curvature, progression and age.


Observation allows spine specialists to track changes in your spine. Periodic checkups can reveal how progressive the scoliosis is and how quickly it alters your spine’s alignment. Providers closely observe scoliosis cases in children because their spines are still growing and developing. However, your provider may also want to examine you as an adult if your condition shows signs of quick progression. A non-progressing case of scoliosis may have minimal impact on your daily life, but a progressive case typically requires intervention to prevent discomfort and further curvature.


Bracing is more common during childhood and adolescence, but you may also benefit from a brace if you develop scoliosis or find your condition worsening during adulthood. Wearing a specialized back brace for a prescribed period during the day or night supports the spine to prevent its curvature from progressing. If a provider recommends this solution, they will tell you how many hours to wear the brace daily.

Spinal Injections

Spinal injections are a short-term pain management solution. A provider can inject a local anesthetic and steroids into the affected areas of your back, providing pain relief for a few months or weeks.


Some scoliosis cases improve with surgery. While most people don’t need surgery for their scoliosis, you should consider it if you have the following problems:

  • Severe spine curvature that affects your daily life
  • Rapidly progressing spine curvature
  • Nerve compression or irritation in the spine
  • Severe back pain that non-surgical treatments don’t relieve

Your provider may recommend one of the following solutions if you need scoliosis surgery.

  • Spinal fusion: A spinal fusion procedure fuses two or more vertebrae, stabilizing, straightening and strengthening the spine to relieve scoliosis symptoms.
  • Lumbar decompression: Lumbar decompression involves a discectomy, laminectomy, spinal fusion or a combination of these. During a discectomy, a surgeon removes part of a damaged disc to relieve nerve pressure. During a laminectomy, a surgeon removes a section of bone from a vertebra to alleviate nerve pressure and enlarge the spinal canal.

Spine specialists offer minimally invasive procedures to increase post-surgery comfort and reduce or prevent scarring. You can expect a faster, easier recovery time following a minimally invasive surgery like an endoscopic procedure.

Seek Minimally Invasive Scoliosis Treatment at Desert Institute for Spine Care

Recognizing the signs of scoliosis can help you seek treatment when necessary. While scoliosis is often non-problematic and requires no treatment, it can sometimes cause discomfort and significant misalignment. Managing your spine’s curvature and comfort level can increase your mobility and quality of life. Desert Institute for Spine Care offers expert diagnosis, careful observation and cutting-edge scoliosis treatment.

Our spine specialists have the knowledge, training and experience to accurately diagnose your scoliosis and recommend the best treatment options. As leaders in minimally invasive spine care, we determine the least invasive procedure that will bring you the best possible results, helping you enjoy a faster, more comfortable recovery time. Contact DISC to schedule an appointment and learn more about our compassionate care and innovative treatment solutions.

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