It’s estimated that two to three percent of Americans have scoliosis by age 16. Scoliosis, in simple terms, is an abnormal curvature of the spine from right to left. Instead of the spine running straight down the back as it should, it curves into an “S” shape, typically bending more to one side than the other.

Scoliosis is common among growing children, and there’s no shortage of myths circulating about what causes it. Whether you have a child with scoliosis or not, it’s good to be educated based on accurate information. Why not test your current knowledge — and maybe even learn something new — with a game of true or false?

True or false? Bad posture can cause scoliosis.

False. For sure, slacking and slumping aren’t good. They put added strain on muscles and joints, eventually causing discomfort and pain. Yet, good or bad posture has no bearing on whether or not a child will develop this condition.

True or false? Inability to stand up straight can indicate scoliosis.

True. If a child can’t stand upright and consistently leans to one side, it’s possible that scoliosis could be causing it, and it would be wise to visit a doctor. Usually with an examination and some x-rays, your doctor can find out if there is scoliosis, and what, if any needs to be done to treat it.

True or false? The weight of school books and backpacks can permanently damage the spine, leading to scoliosis.

False. While this weight can put strain on the back, shoulders and neck, a backpack full of schoolbooks isn’t a cause of scoliosis. In reality, if it were, a lot more children would suffer from it.

That being said, carrying too much weight around can lead to pain and muscle tension. So, it would still be good to scale down what they carry as much as possible.

True or false? Certain sports injuries can cause scoliosis.

False. Many believe that sports-related back injuries such as a hard tackle in football can cause curvature of the spine. While damage to the spine can occur, this wouldn’t be considered scoliosis.

True or false? The spine can simply appear curved but work normally.

True. When the spine only appears to be curved, it’s referred to as nonstructural scoliosis. It may look this way because of one leg being slightly shorter than the other, muscle spasms on one side of the body or even forms of inflammation such as appendicitis.

The opposite of the nonstructural type is structural scoliosis. This is when the curvature of the spine is rigid. This form is unlike the other in that it cannot be reversed.

True or false? Scoliosis has a known cause.

80% false and 20% true. That was a bit of a trick question. In approximately 80% of cases, doctors are unable to determine the exact cause of spine curvature. These cases are called idiopathic. This means that only the remaining 20% of cases can be labeled as structural or nonstructural and attributed to a certain issue.

True or false? Someone with scoliosis will have symptoms.

False. Often this condition is found because someone is looking for it, not because the child is having a problem. That’s why keeping your eyes open is important (see symptoms below).

True or false? Every case of scoliosis needs to be surgically repaired.

False. It’s not uncommon to have a slight curve in your spine, and for most this will never cause any problems. Typically surgery is only considered if the curvature is more than 20 degrees or increases over time by 5 degrees or more. Only about 10 percent of adolescents diagnosed with scoliosis will actually need some kind of treatment (bracing and/or surgery).

What to Look Out For

Often, because curvature occurs gradually, it can go unnoticed by parents and children. However, you should seek a medical evaluation if you notice that your child has:

  • Uneven shoulders
  • An uneven waist
  • One hip higher than the other
  • Prominent ribs
  • One shoulder blade that’s more prominent than the other
  • Difficulty breathing without an explainable reason (severe curves can actually make one lung hard to expand).

Your child’s doctor can confirm or deny the presence of scoliosis and then discuss with you the wisest course of action based on the diagnosis. However, in order for this to happen, it’s important that you be able to recognize the signs in the first place. So the question is: “ How much do you know about scoliosis?”