Scoliosis

What is scoliosis?

A normal spine, when viewed from behind, appears straight. However, a spine affected by scoliosis shows evidence of a lateral, or side-to-side curvature, with the spine looking like an "S" or "C" and a rotation of the back bones (vertebrae), giving the appearance that the person is leaning to one side. According to the Scoliosis Research Society, scoliosis is defined as a curvature of the spine measuring 10 degrees or greater.

Scoliosis is a type of spinal deformity and shouldn't be confused with poor posture.

Spinal curvature from scoliosis may occur on the right or left side of the spine, or on both sides in different sections. Both the thoracic (mid) and lumbar (lower) spine may be affected by scoliosis.

What causes scoliosis?

In more than 80% of cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown — a condition called idiopathic scoliosis. In other cases, scoliosis may develop as a result of degeneration of the spinal discs, as seen with arthritis, osteoporosis, or as a hereditary condition that tends to run in families.

The abnormal curves of the spine are classified according to their cause, including the following:

  • Nonstructural scoliosis (also called functional scoliosis). In this condition, a structurally normal spine appears curved due to 1 or more underlying conditions (for example, difference in leg length or an inflammatory condition). This type of scoliosis is generally temporary and is often relieved when the underlying condition is treated.

  • Structural scoliosis. The possible causes of structural scoliosis are numerous, including:

    • Of unknown origin (idiopathic structural scoliosis)

    • Disease (for example, neuromuscular, metabolic, connective tissue, or rheumatoid disease)

    • Birth defect

    • Injury

    • Infection

    • Abnormal growth

What are the symptoms of scoliosis?

The following are the most common symptoms of scoliosis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Difference in shoulder height

  • The head isn't centered with the rest of the body

  • Difference in hip height or position

  • Difference in shoulder blade height or position

  • When standing straight, difference in the way the arms hang beside the body

  • When bending forward, the sides of the back appear different in height

Back pain, leg pain, and changes in bowel and bladder habits aren't commonly associated with idiopathic scoliosis. A person experiencing these types of symptoms requires immediate further medical evaluation by a doctor.

The symptoms of scoliosis may resemble other spinal conditions or deformities, or may be a result of an injury or infection. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is scoliosis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, X-rays (a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of bones on to film) are the primary diagnostic tool for scoliosis. In establishing a diagnosis of scoliosis, the doctor measures the degree of spinal curvature on the X-ray.

The following other diagnostic procedures may be performed for nonidiopathic curvatures, atypical curve patterns, or congenital scoliosis:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. This diagnostic imaging procedure uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

Early detection of scoliosis is most important for successful treatment.

How is scoliosis treated?

Specific treatment of scoliosis will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • The underlying cause of the scoliosis

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment is to stop the progression of the curve and prevent deformity. Treatment may include:

  • Observation and repeated examinations. Observation and repeated examinations may be necessary to determine if the spine is continuing to curve, and are used when a person has a curve less than 25 degrees and is still growing.

  • Bracing. Bracing may be used when the curve measures more than 25 degrees to 30 degrees on an X-ray, but skeletal growth remains. It may also be necessary if a person is growing and has a curve between 20 degrees and 29 degrees that isn't improving. The type of brace and the amount of time spent in the brace will depend on the severity of the condition.

  • Surgery. Surgery may be recommended when the curve measures 45 degrees or more on an X-ray and bracing isn't successful in slowing down the progression of the curve when a person is still growing.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, there's no scientific evidence to show that other methods for treating scoliosis (for example, chiropractic manipulation, electrical stimulation, nutritional supplementation, and exercise) prevent the progression of the disease.

Erica F. Bisson, M.D.

Erica F. Bisson, M.D., is a neurosurgeon who specializes in treatment of spinal disorders. Dr. Bisson obtained her medical degree from Tufts University. She also completed a fellowship in spine surgery at the University of Utah in 2008, and is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at... Read More

Specialties:

Neurosurgery, Neuro Spine Surgery, Pain Surgery, Trauma - Neuro Critical Care

Locations:

Clinical Neurosciences Center (801) 585-6065
Parkway Health Center (801) 585-6065
South Jordan Health Center (801) 585-6065

Darrel S. Brodke, M.D.

Darrel S. Brodke, MD is a board certified spine specialist with expertise in the care of neck and back problems, including disc herniations, spinal stenosis, degenerative conditions, deformities and trauma of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. Dr. Brodke received his MD at the University of California, Sa... Read More

Specialties:

Orthopaedic Surgery, Degenerative Spine Surgery, Orthopaedic Spine Surgery, Spinal Deformity Surgery, Spine Trauma

Locations:

University Orthopaedic Center (801) 587-5451

Andrew T. Dailey, M.D.

Andrew T. Dailey, MD treats patients suffering from spinal cord injury, spine trauma, and cervical degenerative disease. Dr. Dailey originally came to the University of Utah in 1998, but left after five years to practice at the University of Washington in Seattle. He returned to the University of Utah in 2006 to... Read More

Specialties:

Neurosurgery, Neuro Spine Surgery, Skull Base Surgery, Trauma - Neuro Critical Care

Locations:

Clinical Neurosciences Center (801) 585-6065

Robert S. Hood, M.D.

Robert S. Hood, MD is the second-ever resident of the Department of Neurosurgery and has since returned as faculty in September 2010. Prior to joining the department, Dr. Hood built a reputable career in private practice and was well-known for his skill in minimally invasive spine surgery and overall patient car... Read More

Specialties:

Neurosurgery, Neuro Spine Surgery

Locations:

Clinical Neurosciences Center (801) 585-6065

Brandon Lawrence, M.D.

Dr. Lawrence is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon specializing in adult and pediatric cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine disorders. Dr. Lawrence focuses his practice in degenerative and traumatic conditions of the spine including disc degeneration and herniation, spinal stenosis, spinal deformity, spinal ... Read More

Specialties:

Degenerative Spine Surgery, Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery, Orthopaedic Spine Surgery, Orthopaedic Surgery, Spinal Deformity Surgery, Spine Arthroplasty, Spine Surgery, Spine Trauma

Locations:

University Orthopaedic Center (801) 587-5451

Joel D. MacDonald, M.D.

Joel D. MacDonald, MD has a broad clinical practice and research interest. His focus is on vascular disorders of the brain, along with skull base tumors and complex spine pathologies. Dr. MacDonald is also Past Vice President and Treasurer of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the Past President and treas... Read More

Specialties:

Neurosurgery, Neuro Spine Surgery, Neurovascular Surgery, Skull Base Surgery, Trauma - Neuro Critical Care

Locations:

Clinical Neurosciences Center (801) 585-7575

Meic H. Schmidt, M.D., M.B.A.

Dr. Meic H. Schmidt is a neurosurgeon with specialized expertise in neuro-oncology and spine surgery. His main clinical focus is on management of patients with tumors and injuries to the brain, spine and spinal cord. In addition, because of his expertise in minimally invasive and endoscopic surgical techniques h... Read More

Specialties:

Neurosurgery, Brain Tumors, Endoscopic Surgery, Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery, Neuro Spine Surgery, Neuro-Oncology, Radiosurgery, Spinal Cord Tumors, Trauma - Neuro Critical Care

Locations:

Clinical Neurosciences Center (801) 585-6065
Huntsman Cancer Hospital (801) 585-0262

William Spiker, M.D.

Dr. Spiker treats conditions of the neck and back such as disk herniations, spinal stenosis, cervical myelopathy and deformities of the spine. He believes in the thoughtful use of new technologies, including minimally invasive surgery and image-guided techniques. As an Assistant Professor in the Department of O... Read More

Specialties:

Orthopaedic Surgery, Degenerative Spine Surgery, Orthopaedic Spine Surgery, Spinal Deformity Surgery, Spine Trauma

Locations:

South Jordan Health Center (801) 213-4500
University Orthopaedic Center (801) 587-7100

Joseph G. Cunniff, D.O.

Joseph G. Cunniff, D.C, D.O., received his B.S. from the University of the State of New York in 1984 and his D.C. from Western States Chiropractic College in 1987. After 10 years of private practice he returned to academics and received his D.O. from the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2002. Following... Read More

Specialties:

Foot and Ankle, Non-operative Musculoskeletal Disorders, Osteopathic Care, Pain Medicine, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Spine, Spine Evaluation

Locations:

University Orthopaedic Center (801) 587-7109

Edgar C. Goldston, Jr., M.D.

Edgar C. Goldston, Jr., MD is actively involved with the development and implementation of the Comprehensive Spine Program at the University of Utah, which incorporates a multi-disciplinary approach to spine care. His clinical interests are in interventional spinal medicine and spinal diagnostics, as well as the... Read More

Specialties:

Neuro Spine Surgery, Neurosurgery, Pain Surgery, Spine Evaluation, Trauma - Neuro Critical Care

Locations:

Clinical Neurosciences Center (801) 585-6065

Richard W. Kendall, D.O.

Dr. Richard W. Kendall holds board certifications from The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with a sub-specialty certification in pain management. Dr. Kendall's focus is on rehabilitation treatments and diagnosis of back and neck pain using interventional spine procedures, electrodiagnosit... Read More

Specialties:

Back, EMG, Electrodiagnosis, Neck, Non-operative Musculoskeletal Disorders, Osteopathic Care, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Spine, Spine Evaluation, Sports Medicine

Locations:

University Orthopaedic Center (801) 587-7109

Sara McEvoy, M.P.A.S.

Receiving her MPAS in 2007, Sara is excited to return to the University of Utah to join the comprehensive spine care team at the Clinical Neurosciences Center. Prior to her arrival in 2012, Sara spent the previous five years working in internal medicine at the 4th Street Homeless Clinic. With her strong interest... Read More

Specialties:

Neuro Spine Surgery, Neurosurgery, Physician Assistant, Spine Evaluation

Locations:

Clinical Neurosciences Center (801) 585-6065

Jason T. Montgomery, PA-C

Nationally Certified Physician Assistant who joined the Department of Orthopaedics in July 2010. He completed his training at Jefferson College of Health Sciences, Roanoke, Virginia, and then completed in internship with Central Utah Clinic Cardiology. His undergraduate work was done in the field of behavioral h... Read More

Specialties:

Orthopaedic Surgery, Physician Assistant, Orthopaedic Spine Surgery

Locations:

University Orthopaedic Center (801) 587-7109

David J. Petron, M.D.

Dr. David Petron, Assistant Professor (clinical) is a primary care orthopaedic/sports medicine specialist. He originally trained in family practice and then completed a fellowship in primary care orthopaedics and sports medicine at Michigan State University. Dr. Petron is the Director of Primary Care Sports Medi... Read More

Specialties:

Family Medicine, Spine Evaluation, Sports Medicine, Foot and Ankle, Shoulder

Locations:

UUHC - Park City Ski Clinic (435) 655-7970
University Orthopaedic Center (801) 587-7109

Pamela A. Hansen, M.D.

Dr. Pamela A. Hansen is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, specializing in musculoskeletal sports and spine rehabilitation. Dr. Hansen's clinical interests include rehabilitation of musculoskeletal problems, interventional spine procedures, and electrodiagnostic testing.... Read More

Specialties:

Acupuncture, Back, Cancer Rehabilitation, EMG, Electrodiagnosis, Foot and Ankle, Neck, Non-operative Musculoskeletal Disorders, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Spine, Spine Evaluation, Sports Medicine

Locations:

Huntsman Cancer Institute (801) 587-4585
University Orthopaedic Center (801) 587-7109

Amy L. Whipple, APRN

Amy has been with the University Neurosurgery Spine Team since early 2012. Prior to joining the University System she had been working as a Nurse Practitioner in a local urgent care clinic providing both acute care and primary medicine. When she first graduated from NP school she worked with the local homeless ... Read More

Specialties:

Family Nurse Practitioner, Neuro Spine Surgery, Neurosurgery, Spine Evaluation

Locations:

Clinical Neurosciences Center (801) 585-6065
Parkway Health Center (801) 585-6065

University of Utah Campus

Clinical Neurosciences Center 175 N. Medical Drive East
Salt Lake City, UT 84132
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Appointments
(801) 585-7575
University Orthopaedic Center 590 Wakara Way
Salt Lake City, UT 84108
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(801) 587-7109

Community Health Centers

South Jordan Health Center 5126 W. Daybreak Parkway
South Jordan, UT 84095
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(801) 213-4500
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