Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies




Scoliosis is a sideways curve of your spine forwards or backwards, or a tilt to the side. There are many types of scoliosis caused by a number of different things. The condition mainly affects children but adults can get scoliosis too.

It's normal for your spine to curve if you lift something or stand with a poor posture. Scoliosis is when you have a curve at an angle of more than 10 degrees that doesn't go away. The curve may be a C-shape or an S-shape, and your spine may also be twisted (rotated).

Read more Close
Idiopathic scoliosis
Scoliosis is a sideways curve to the spine. Idiopathic means that the cause is unknown
An image showing the effects of scoliosis


  • Symptoms Symptoms of scoliosis

    You won't usually have any symptoms of scoliosis but you may notice a change in how your back looks. For example, one of your shoulders may look higher than the other, or one of your shoulder blades may stick out. Your body may look wider on one side than the other when you stand with your arms at your side. Your hips may also look uneven. If your ribs stick out on one side when you bend forwards, it's known as a rib hump.

    If you think you, or your child, may have scoliosis, see your GP for advice.

  • Diagnosis Diagnosis of scoliosis

    Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.

    An image showing the scoliosis back bend test

    Your GP may ask you to bend forwards from your waist, with the palms of your hands together. This will help show if one of your shoulders is higher than the other, or if your ribs are more prominent on one side. It may also cause a bulge in your back if you have scoliosis.

    If your GP thinks you have scoliosis, they may refer you to see a specialist. This may be an orthopaedic specialist (a doctor who specialises in identifying and treating bone conditions.

    Your GP may also refer you to have the following tests.

    • An X-ray of your back to show the position and size of the curve in your spine. The curve is measured in degrees, which is called the Cobb angle. Your doctor may compare early X-rays with later ones to see if the curve has stayed the same or got worse.
    • A CT scan or MRI scan to examine your spinal cord to check for any problems. A CT scan uses X-rays, while an MRI scan uses magnets and radio waves to produce images of the inside of your body.
  • Treatment Treatment of scoliosis

    There are a number of treatments for scoliosis. Your treatment will depend on how severe the curve in your spine is. It will also depend if the curve is likely to get worse and how much it affects your daily life.


    If your scoliosis is mild and doesn't affect your normal function and everyday life, your doctor may recommend you have regular check-ups. This will allow your doctor to monitor the curve in your spine and it may get better without any treatment. Around nine in 10 children with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis don't need treatment and the curve corrects itself as they grow.


    Your specialist doctor may recommend you wear a back brace for a short period of time. In adults this may give some pain relief.

    If your child has scoliosis and the curve in his or her spine is more than around 20 degrees, your doctor may suggest a brace too. This will not correct scoliosis but may help to stop the curve getting worse. Your child will only be offered this treatment if he or she is still growing.

    Different types of brace are available, which are usually made of a rigid or flexible plastic. The most common type covers roughly the same area as a waistcoat. If your child has a more severe curve, your doctor may suggest a brace that extends higher up their body and under their chin. Your child may need to wear the brace all the time for it to work, but this can vary depending on your child's condition. Ask your doctor for more information.

    Doctors aren't sure how well braces work. They are more likely to work if treatment is started at a younger age, while your child's back is still growing. Your child may need to wear the brace until he or she stops growing. As your child grows, the brace will need to be replaced, usually every 12 to 18 months.


    Depending on how curved your spine is, and if other treatments haven't worked, your specialist doctor may recommend you have an operation for scoliosis. Surgery aims to reduce the curve of your spine and prevent it from getting worse.

    The most common type of surgery is called spinal fusion, where your affected spinal bones (vertebrae) are straightened and then fused (joined) together. Your surgeon will correct the curve in your spine using metal rods and screws that he or she will fit to your spine.

    Children will need another operation about every six months to lengthen the metal rods as they grow. However, there is a new type of surgery for children over two that involves using special rods that can be lengthened using a remote control instead. Ask your doctor for more information.

    Surgery to correct scoliosis can involve a long and complex operation and there’s a small risk of damage to your spinal cord. In order to make an informed decision on whether to have surgery, you need to be aware of the possible side-effects and the risk of complications. Your surgeon will discuss these with you to help you make a decision. See our Frequently asked questions for more information.

    Other treatments

    Other treatments, such as chiropractic medicine, physiotherapy exercises and electrical stimulation, may help ease any back pain you might have. However, they cannot correct the curve in your spine and treat scoliosis.

    Exercises for low back pain by Bupa UKClick on the image to open a larger version. 











  • Muscle, bone and joint treatment

    At our Bupa Health Centres, we offer self-pay health services for a wide range of conditions, including muscle, bone and joint treatment.

  • Causes Causes of scoliosis

    There are a number of causes of scoliosis. The cause of scoliosis also defines the different types of the condition.

    Idiopathic scoliosis

    Around eight in 10 people who have scoliosis don't ever find out what caused it. This is called idiopathic scoliosis. You can get idiopathic scoliosis at any age but it most commonly develops in children over 10 and is known as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. The curve is almost always to the right and girls are up to eight times more likely to get it than boys.

    Less commonly, scoliosis develops in younger children. If it develops in children aged three and under, it's known as infantile idiopathic scoliosis. The curvature is usually to the left and slightly more boys are affected than girls. If the condition develops in children between the ages of three and 10, it's called juvenile idiopathic scoliosis. Like adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, it's more common in girls and causes a curve to the right of the spine.

    Adults can also get scoliosis. Idiopathic scoliosis often seems to run in families.

    Congenital scoliosis

    If your child is born with an abnormally curved spine, it's called congenital scoliosis. This happens when the spinal bones (vertebrae) don’t form properly – they may be wedged or fused together. The curve often becomes more obvious as your child grows. It’s not known why this happens and congenital scoliosis doesn't appear to run in families.

    Neuromuscular scoliosis

    This type of scoliosis is caused by a condition that affects the nerves or muscles in your back, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Your spine is supported by these muscles, so if they are weak for any reason, your spine starts to tilt to one side. If you have neuromuscular scoliosis, your spine may be curved and twisted, which can make it difficult to walk.

    Other causes

    Other causes of scoliosis can include damage to your spine or a problem with your spine caused by another health condition. For example, osteoporosis, arthritis, an injury, surgery, infection or rarely, cancer in the spine can cause scoliosis.

  • Complications Complications of scoliosis

    Not everyone who has scoliosis will develop complications. The chance of developing them depends on how curved your back is. Potential complications of scoliosis can include:

    • back pain
    • it may affect your body image and self-confidence leading to difficulties in breathing
    • problems with your nervous system, such as a loss of feeling in your legs
  • Prevention Prevention of scoliosis

    There’s no way to prevent idiopathic scoliosis. If you get a diagnosis and have treatment early, it may help to prevent it from getting worse.

    At present there’s no national screening programme for scoliosis. If you have a history of scoliosis in your family, look out for any signs of a curve in your own, or your child's, spine. If you notice anything or are unsure, contact your GP for advice.

  • Living with scoliosis Living with scoliosis

    How much scoliosis affects you will depend on how severe the curve of your spine is. For most people who develop idiopathic scoliosis as teenagers, it doesn't cause any life-threatening problems. It can make life difficult and affect your body image and confidence.

    Family support is crucial and there are support groups you can get in touch with (see Further information). It may help to talk to other children, teenagers and parents who are going through the same thing.

  • FAQs FAQs

    Will my scoliosis stay the same or get worse?


    If you’re diagnosed with scoliosis as a child, the curve may well get better but it's possible it could get worse.


    Your age, and the size and type of curve you have are important factors for predicting how your scoliosis will progress. It's not possible to give concrete predictions for everyone. In very young children, scoliosis often improves without treatment. But for others it may not and you, or your child, will require treatment to stop it from getting worse.

    If you have scoliosis, it’s important that you visit your GP who will refer you to a specialist for regular check-ups. This can help your doctor keep track of the curve and treat it before it causes any problems.

    Will scoliosis stop my child playing sport?


    Not necessarily. Many people who are diagnosed with scoliosis are able to play sport and do exercise.


    Exercise is good for children – it improves bone health, self-confidence and helps keep their hearts healthy. What your child is able to do will depend on several factors. These will include their general health, how severe the curve of their spine is and the type of treatment your child has had. If your child has mild scoliosis, he or she should try to lead a normal life, which includes taking part in sporting activities. If your child has a back brace, your specialist doctor may advise him or her to take it off during contact sports.

    Talk to your doctor for advice about any activities your child shouldn't do.

    Does surgery for scoliosis carry any risks?


    All types of surgery carry some risks. Your specialist doctor or surgeon will only recommend surgery for scoliosis if it's considered that the benefits outweigh the risks. The risks depend on the type of procedure you have and your personal circumstances.


    Severe scoliosis is sometimes treated with a type of surgery called spinal fusion. Spinal fusion helps reduce the curve of your spine and stops it from getting worse. In spinal fusion, your surgeon will fuse (join together) several bones in your spine (vertebrae) and attach metal rods to keep it straight.

    Like all surgery, there are some risks involved. Some problems specific to spinal fusion are listed below.

    • There’s a small risk of spinal cord or nerve damage.
    • There’s a chance of developing an infection – this can happen months or even years after surgery.
    • Pseudoarthrosis. This is when your spine fails to properly fuse. It can happen years after surgery and you may need another operation
    • Sometimes the rods attached to your spine may break or come loose. You might need to have another operation to correct this.
    • Some people feel pain in their back following surgery. The cause isn't always known, but further surgery can sometimes help.

    Ask your orthopaedic surgeon (a doctor who specialises in bone surgery) for advice about whether spinal fusion for scoliosis is the right choice for you.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information


    • Scoliosis: frequently asked questions. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons., published March 2011
    • Scoliosis and kyphosis. PatientPlus., published 19 January 2012
    • McKenna C, Wade R, Faria R, et al. EOS 2d/3d X-ray imaging system: a systematic review and economic evaluation. Health Technol Assess 2012; 16(14). doi: 10.3310/hta16140
    • Scoliosis: idiopathic scoliosis. Scoliosis Research Society., accessed 30 July 2014
    • Romano M, Minozzi S, Bettany-Saltikov J, et al. Exercises for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 8. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007837.pub2
    • Common scoliosis questions. Scoliosis Research Society., accessed 29 July 2014
    • Idiopathic scoliosis. Medscape., published 24 September 2012
    • Neuromuscular scoliosis. Medscape., published 18 October 2012
    • Idiopathic scoliosis. The Merck Manuals., published May 2013
    • Diagnostic imaging pathways – paediatric, scoliosis (adolescent). Government of Western Australia., published March 2012
    • Infantile scoliosis. Medscape., published 29 October 2013
    • Congenital scoliosis. Scoliosis Research Society., accessed 29 July 2014
    • Introduction to scoliosis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons., published March 2011
    • Screening for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. UK National Screening Committee., published November 2011
    • Labelle H, Richards SB, De Kleuver M, et al. Screening for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: an information statement by the Scoliosis Research Society International Task Force. Scoliosis 2013; 8:17. doi:10.1186/1748-7161-8-17
    • The MAGEC system for spinal lengthening in children with scoliosis. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2014.
    • Juvenile scoliosis. Scoliosis Research Society., accessed 31 July 2014
    • Scoliosis. UK National Screening Committee., published November 2012
    • Physical activity guidelines for children and young people. Department of Health., published July 2011
    • Scoliosis surgery: things to consider. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons., published March 2011
    • Scoliosis. BMJ Best Practice., published 22 October 2014
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Information Team, October 2014.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Image of Andrew Byron

Andrew Byron
Head of health content and clinical engagement

  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
  • Nick Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
  • Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.


In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.


We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.


We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Bupa House
15-19 Bloomsbury Way

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.