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Does scoliosis hurt

Dr. W. Christopher Urban

Glen Burnie, MD

Many adolescents with scoliosis do not have back pain that limits their ability to perform their usual activities. Some may have mild discomfort in their back or complain of fatigue type pain. Scoliosis associated with severe pain is concerning and should be thoroughly evaluated to make sure that there is not another underlying disorder present. In contrast, adult scoliosis may frequently cause back pain. This pain is often caused by disc degeneration or arthritis of the facet joints. Patients with adult scoliosis can also develop nerve compression that may cause buttock or leg pain.

Dr. Scott J. Luhmann

St. Louis, MO

Mild scoliosis does not cause pain. Moderate to severe scoliosis can increase the likelihood of activity-related musculoskeletal pain.

Dr. Stephen Ondra

Chicago, IL

Typically, scoliosis will not be painful in children or adolescents. Adolescents will develop muscle spasms, but pain is much more common in adult patients. Adults will have associated degenerative disease. When significant spine pain accompanies a spinal deformity in adolescents, immediate attention should be sought to ensure no diagnosis exists. Anyone who has pain associated with their back as a child or adolescent should get immediate medical attention.

Dr. Robert W. Molinari

Rochester, NY

The vast majority of adolescent scoliosis patients have no related pain.

Dr. Frank J. Schwab

New York, NY

In children and adolescents scoliosis usually does not cause pain. However, in adults, particularly when scoliosis is associated with instability of the spine, pain is not uncommon. Even in adolescents who do not have scoliosis, back discomfort may occur from time to time. If back discomfort becomes more serious and really painful then an evaluation by a doctor is important.

Dr. Patrick Bosch

Albuquerque, NM

Usually, the spinal curve itself does not hurt. There are, however, studies that suggest people with more severe curves experience a higher degree of musculoskeletal back pain.

Dr. John P. Lubicky

Chicago, IL
Shriner's Hospital for Children

In general, small curves do not cause pain in the back. However, large curves certainly may be associated with some aching and discomfort because not only is the spine curved and rotated, the ribs are oriented abnormally as well as the shoulder blades. Various kinds of activities, then, in the presence of this abnormal alignment may cause aches and pains in the back. Also, in older adolescents and adults, large curves that have been there for awhile will cause arthritic changes in the joints of the spine, which also may hurt.

Dr. James Mooney, III

Detroit, MI

In general, scoliosis does not cause pain particularly in younger patients. Scoliosis that is associated with significant pain may have related abnormalities of the spinal cord that need to be evaluated. Scoliosis may cause pain as an adult secondary to development of arthritis. This is the reason why some larger curves should treated early on.

Dr. John T. Smith

University of Utah Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Most children with scoliosis do not have back pain. Back pain in children can be due to a lot of things, some of which are not serious, such as bad posture or carrying too many books back and forth to school in a backpack over one shoulder. However, a doctor should evaluate serious back pain in children, whether or not they have scoliosis.

Dr. Baron S. Lonner

New York, NY

Scoliosis is not typically painful in the child or adolescent. This is generally true of patients with small curves. However, larger curves, and particularly those in the thoracolumbar spine (the junction of the ribbed and non ribbed lower spine) are often painful to some degree. In the pediatric population, pain is generally not incapacitating. There are other forms of scoliosis such as that caused by osteoid osteoma, a benign tumor of the spine that are usually painful in children. The adult patient with scoliosis typically presents with pain, which may be debilitating and is often the primary reason for consultation. The adult spine has degenerative changes, which in conjunction with spinal curvatures are often the source of pain. Nerve impingement or "pinched nerves" may arise as a result of a disc herniation or narrowing of the space for the nerves (foramen) as they exit the spine in severe scoliosis.

Dr. David W. Polly, Jr.

Minneapolis, MN

Scoliosis usually does not hurt. A lot of adolescents can have back pain but it is pretty uncommon for scoliosis to cause back pain.

Dr. Thomas G. Lowe

Woodridge Orthopaedics & Spine Center, P.C.

Generally there is no significant discomfort with scoliosis although I found that if you really ask people very carefully about the presence or absence of pain, many of them will have some minor discomfort with physical activity.

Dr. Christopher L. Hamill

Buffalo General HospitalBuffalo General Hospital

Scoliosis by definition is not painful, if there is pain a different test should be preformed.

Dr. Charles E. Johnston, II

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital Orthopedic Group

Sometimes, but as a rule, patients with scoliosis have no greater incidence of back pain than people without scoliosis. Remember everybody has a back ache at one time or another.

Dr. Jean-Pierre C. Farcy

New York, NY
M.M.C. Spine Center

Usually scoliosis does not hurt, however in some cases where of very poor balance is present scoliosis may be painful. Pain due to scoliosis is usually developing when the curve is getting worse and in an older age group.

Dr. Robert S. Pashman

Los Angeles, CA

In children and adolescents, pain is an infrequent finding with scoliosis. If pain is the major complaint in a young patient with scoliosis, then a work up beyond plain X-rays may be ordered to establish the underlying cause of the curvature. For example, in rare instances, a benign inflammatory focus of tissue (osteoid osteoma) can produce curvature of the spine. In the adult population, pain may be the major reason for a patient with scoliosis to seek treatment. That is because, as we age, our spine becomes less flexible and undergoes changes, which reduce water content in the discs and produce inflammation in the joints.

Dr. Dennis G. Crandall

Mesa, AZ

Healthy teenagers with scoliosis do not have curve related back pain. If back pain is present, other causes should be considered. Pain can occur in adults with scoliosis, and in certain types of curves that render the spine out of balance.

The commentary above recounts the experiences of these physicians. Medtronic invited them to share their stories candidly. Keep in mind that results vary; not every patient's response is the same. Talk with your doctor to learn more about any products that are mentioned above.

It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications and benefits of spinal surgery with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your doctor's judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.

  • Published: June 20, 2002
  • Updated: April 19, 2010