Frequently Asked Questions About Scoliosis

Written and reviewed for scientific and factual accuracy by Dr. Austin Jelcick, PhD and Dr. Matthew Janzen, DC. Last reviewed/edited on October 28, 2020. First published January 16, 2018.

Learning about scoliosis and available treatment options can be overwhelming, stressful, and confusing; especially when trying to find information that is supported by science. We have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) about scoliosis here for your quick review. Don’t see your question below in the scoliosis FAQ? Contact us via email, by phone, or through our contact form and we will get back to you as soon as possible to answer your questions and review your case. The more informed and educated we are, the better our treatment decisions are as well!

What is scoliosis?

Classical Definition of Scoliosis:  Scoliosis is classically defined as a curve in the spine that exceeds 10 degrees.  Along with a curvature of the spine, there is usually an abnormal twist (rotation) present.  A normal human vertebral column (spine) should perfectly align with a plumb line when viewed from the front or back.  In scoliosis, there is a loss of perfect alignment, rather, the spinal column deviates from this straight up and down the plumb line.

One key scoliosis FAQ is whether or not it is simply a two dimensional curve or something more complex. Scoliosis is a three-dimensional deformity. It is not simply a curve, but a curve with a twist.  The three-dimensional nature of scoliosis is not readily obvious.  Imagine a hand on each end of the spine:  one at the top, the other at the bottom.  The hands twist the ends in opposite directions as the top and bottom ends collapse towards the center.  This twisting and collapsing of spinal height are what happens in scoliosis.  Most commonly, the spine is “coiling down” around the axis of the spinal cord.

The ribs and rib cage, being attached to the spine, will also be forced into an asymmetric position when scoliosis occurs.  The alignment of the pelvis relative to the spine may also become quite distorted with scoliosis.  As a result, scoliosis is considered a deformity of the spine, pelvis, and ribs, which is collectively referred to as the “trunk”.

In summary, scoliosis is a deformity of the spine and trunk characterized by:

  • Curvature of the spine that exceeds 10 degrees
  • Rotational twisting of the vertebra
  • 3-D deformity of the ribs, spinal column, and pelvis

What is Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis?

Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS) is an abnormal curvature of the spine exceeding 10 degrees, diagnosed in adolescence and in which the cause is unknown.  The deformity occurs with rotational misalignment, often marked by a hump in the ribs or low back, as well as loss of the normal sagittal curves of the spine.

  • Adolescent: The diagnosis is made in adolescence.
  • Idiopathic: The reason for the scoliosis has not yet been determined. The term “Idiopathic” comes from Greek and literally translated would mean “one’s own private suffering”.  A case will be labeled “idiopathic” if there are no obvious neuromuscular diseases, genetic syndromes or congenital malformations.
  • Scoliosis: Three-dimensional deformity of the spine marked by both curvature beyond 10 degrees as well as a twist

For more information on AIS, please read our educational blog.

Examples of nerve tension pathologies that can cause scoliosis

What Causes Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions about scoliosis. All the structural changes that take place as a normal spine transitions into AIS can be explained by a tight spinal cord.  More accurately, tension anywhere along the spinal canal, also called the neural axis, can explain all the changes we see in the alignment of the spine.  The official name for this hypothesis first put forward by Dr. Roth is “Asynchronous Neuro-Osseous Development28,29.

The theory states that as the child’s bones grow rapidly, the nervous system or spinal cord is unable to keep up the pace.  This results in tension along the axis of the spinal canal, which is relieved by the scoliotic posture. You can learn more about what Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis is, as well as how it is caused including other types of scoliosis on our educational blog.

Nerve tension model for idiopathic scoliosis

Is Scoliosis Treatable?

Scoliosis is in fact treatable. There are two categories of scoliosis treatment, surgical and nonsurgical scoliosis treatment, both of which have sub-categories within them. You can find out more about how we treat scoliosis non-surgically here; you can also learn about scoliosis treatment and key considerations in detail here.

Can Treating Scoliosis Make You Taller?

Yes.  Depending on how large your curve is, and how much straighter it becomes; one can gain height from scoliosis treatment.  This effect has been observed clinically after both surgical and non-surgical scoliosis correction.

How Do You Treat Scoliosis?

One of the biggest frequently asked questions about scoliosis is simply how do you treat it? As it turns out, there are two categories of scoliosis treatment, surgical and nonsurgical scoliosis treatment.

Scoliosis Surgery

There are two main methods of scoliosis surgery, a spinal fusion surgery and a vertebral body tethering.

Non-Surgical Scoliosis Treatment

Non-surgical treatment has much more variation in methodology depending on the patient’s age at start of treatment. Some of the most common nonsurgical scoliosis treatment methods include a scoliosis brace, Schroth Physiotherapy, and exercise-based boot camps.  Scoliosis Care Centers takes a comprehensive approach to non-surgical scoliosis treatment in which we use a multitude of tools and techniques. You can find out more about our non-surgical scoliosis treatment on our treatment page which details The Silicon Valley Method.

What is Scoliosis Treatment?

Scoliosis treatment is the process of correcting the spine from its curved scoliotic state to a straighter, normal shape. This is often done to improve posture, aesthetic appearance, and in some cases to relieve pain.

When Does Scoliosis Need Treatment?

Experts disagree on when scoliosis needs treatment.  Most surgeons will recommend surgical treatment only when the spinal curvature is at or beyond 40 degrees. Quite often, small curves between 10-25 degrees are not treated at all, mostly out of the erroneous belief that nothing can be done to help them without surgery. This is tragic, as the smaller a scoliosis curve is, the easier it is to correct without surgery.  Hesitating to treat a small scoliosis curve can lead to a large curve that can no longer be fully corrected, even with surgery. Any scoliosis, or curve over 10 degrees, that is detected in a growing spine should be treated as soon as possible, while the curve may still be fully correctable.

With Cases That are in Surgical Range, What are the Factors you Consider When Giving Advice?

There are cases where the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks. When reviewing surgical range cases size of the curve, the rate of progression, the health of the patient, and a patient’s ability to succeed with conservative protocols are some factors we discuss with patients and parents as they decide the pros and cons of surgery and personally decide whether or not to take the risk. In cases where surgery is not an option due to another medical condition or syndrome where non-surgical treatment becomes your only choice, we have worked with patients to put a plan together to manage their care.

How Safe is Scoliosis Surgery?

Another very common scoliosis FAQ people search for is whether or not you can die from scoliosis surgery. While scoliosis cannot kill you by itself, you can learn about the frequency of death associated with scoliosis and scoliosis surgery with peer-reviewed scientific and medical research.

Does Scoliosis Surgery Hurt?

For a complete understanding of pain from scoliosis surgery please visit our page on Scoliosis Surgery Pain.

Frequently Asked Questions About Our Clinic

How Much Does Scoliosis Care Centers Treatment Cost?

The cost of treatment at the Scoliosis Care CentersTM is entirely dependent on the case. Factors that go into determining the cost of treatment include the duration of treatment and equipment needed. For a price quote specific to a case please fill out the contact form to the right and our case director will follow up with you regarding the scoliosis.

Do We Treat Adults With Scoliosis?

Here at Scoliosis Care CentersTM, we provide nonsurgical treatment through the entire life-cycle of scoliosis. We have a dedicated team that focuses exclusively on enabling adults to live unhindered by their scoliosis. Read more on our Adult Scoliosis Page.

How Soon Should We Start Noticing Permanent Changes?

Around the 6 or 9 month mark, the doctors will be able to evaluate how effective the intensive treatment is and how permanent results are forming.

How Many X-rays are Taken and Do you Use Lead Protection to Limit Exposure?

We do need to take images in order to properly treat scoliosis. However, we utilize a 100% radiation-free standing MRI for monitoring our patients. Given the frequency of imaging required for proper monitoring of scoliosis, reducing or eliminating x-ray exposure is of paramount importance given the health implications (ie. increased risk of cancer) of radiation exposure. You can also learn more about our standing MRI and its benefits over x-ray imaging here.

We start with a baseline image to determine what type of curve we are dealing with and get the latest measurement. If the patient brings in a current x-ray from another clinic, we can usually use that one. After that, there are approximately 3 other images that might need to be taken during the 2-4 week long Scoliosis Care CentersTM treatment program. These are for the purpose of making sure the Home Program is pushing the spine toward neutral and not collapsing any of the curves. Every patient is different, there is really no “packaged” treatment plan, and each treatment must be tested.

In the event an x-ray is needed (ie. equipment not compatible with MRI), we make every effort to limit the x-ray exposure to the patient with each image. First, we take the x-ray at approximately 1/10th the milli-Amp dose of regular x-ray shots of the same body parts using the digital software to enhance the picture of the spine. Second, we use lead to shield the breast tissue, thyroid and gonads (ovaries or testes). Third, we face the patients back to the x-ray, creating a natural barrier to the more radio-sensitive tissues in females that are found in the front of the patient.

By using all of these methods to reduce exposure, all the x-rays that we take combined over a patients entire period of treatment with us will usually be much less than the one x-ray taken by the standard medical clinic. All of the radiation doses combined at our office are still less than radiation exposure during a flight from California to New York.

What are the Hotel/Accommodation Options if I am Attending Scoliosis Care Centers?

Check out our accommodations page for more information on places to stay during our treatment program. Our patients get a 15% discount at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Pruneyard while they see us for treatment and patients who stay at the Courtyard Marriott in Campbell receive a 10% discount when they book in advance!

Is Lunch Provided During Treatment?

Scoliosis Care CentersTM Enrollees will have one hour for lunch that they can either bring with them to the health center and store in our fridge or they can head out into Campbell for lunch on all days except for Pizza Day Thursday when the patients get out earlier and have some pizza!

Why Do You Use Hard Scoliosis Braces? Don’t They Make Scoliosis Worse?

What is a myth about scoliosis that also happens to be one of the most frequently asked questions about scoliosis? Whether or not hard braces are “bad” and if they work. Simply put, some braces are poorly designed and improperly fit the patient’s body. Other braces, like our Silicon Valley BraceTM here at Scoliosis Care CentersTM, have excellent design characteristics and can be highly corrective when fit by a skilled specialist. Read more about bracing effectiveness, how braces contribute to success, learn about the science behind bracing, and all about the Silicon Valley Brace here.

What is Scoliosis Care Centers’ Success Rate?

Check out our scoliosis success page to read about what kind of goals we are able to reach with our program and what kind of realistic goals we have for every case. To get an idea of what success you could have with your or your child’s case here at Scoliosis Care CentersTM fill out a contact form with your case information!

What is the Largest Cobb Angle that Scoliosis Care Centers has Managed?

We have helped give patients the management tools to help live a functional and pain-free life with Cobb angles over 130 degrees. To see more examples of severe scoliosis cases treated non-surgically at Scoliosis Care Centers, visit our Results by Curve Size page. You can also enter your information in our scoliosis risk calculator and see your estimated curve correction based on our current and past results.

Again, if you have any questions that were not covered within our Scoliosis FAQ, or if you need any clarifications regarding the information we have provided, please contact us and we will be happy to help! After all, knowledge is power!