If your shoulders seem lopsided or your clothes hang unevenly, it may be poor posture — or it could be scoliosis.

Scoliosis, an S- or C-shaped curvature of the spine, often stems from an adolescent growth spurt and is typically painless. However, it can also result from a musculoskeletal deformity — like uneven leg lengths. Many adults are unknowingly living with scoliosis, which can cause other health problems.

A simple screening at the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC can help you determine whether your bad posture is actually scoliosis. With appropriate treatment, our spine experts can help you stand tall.

Complications

While most cases of scoliosis are mild, complications can arise in more severe cases, including:

  • Chronic back pain
  • Crowding or spreading of the ribs
  • Difficulty breathing and heart function issues
  • Noticeable change in body symmetry and appearance
  • Neurological compression with leg pains

Screening and Diagnosis

Scoliosis is often easily identified. Your physician will ask you to bend forward from the waist to check for unevenness in the ribs, back or waist.

A scoliometer might also be used to measure the angle of rotation of the spinal curve. If scoliosis is suspected, an X-ray will determine the abnormal curvature and rotation of the spine, while also ruling out other deformities. If detected, a Cobb angle measurement can be taken to evaluate the severity of the curve, and the likelihood of progression for the best treatment option.

Treatment

Fortunately, about 90 percent of scoliosis cases are mild, only requiring periodic checkups to monitor any changes in the spinal curvature. For moderate and severe curves, treatment is always determined on an individual basis, considering factors such as age, severity, pattern and location of the curve.

Treatments include:
Physical therapy and chiropractic care
Most patients begin with conservative treatments, including physical therapy to strengthen core muscles and chiropractic care to realign the spine.

Braces
Though wearing a brace won’t cure or reverse scoliosis, it helps prevent the curve’s progression in younger patients. The most common brace conforms to the body and is worn under the clothes. Usually worn both day and night, the brace can be taken off for sports or other activities. Once the bones stop growing, younger patients no longer require a brace.

Surgical options
For severe cases, your physician may suggest surgery to relieve nerve compression or prevent the spinal curve from getting worse.

Request an appointment
The experts at the USC Spine Center can help you determine if you have scoliosis, as well as its severity. To schedule a scoliosis screening, request an appointment or call (800) USC-CARE.