Different from adult scoliosis due to how and when it develops, pediatric idiopathic scoliosis manifests—as the name suggests—during childhood and before the body has finished growing, generally before the age of 18.

A musculoskeletal condition, scoliosis affects the spine and, specifically, the vertebrae that make up the spine. A normal spine appears—when viewed from a certain angle—as a straight line front-to-back, even though there are normal curves and bends present. But a spine afflicted with scoliosis will display an abnormal side-to-side curvature that may resemble the shape of a letter C or S.

The most commonly seen form of the condition, idiopathic scoliosis—meaning the origin of the disease is unknown or there is no clear cause—is found in some 80 percent of adolescent scoliosis sufferers.

And whereas these abnormal curves of the spine that define the disorder can occur at any age, pediatric idiopathic scoliosis is classified into three categories: infantile, juvenile and adolescent.

When a child under the age of three is diagnosed with this disease, physicians label it as infantile idiopathic scoliosis. Extremely rare, thankfully the majority of the cases that do occur resolve themselves naturally and without the need for treatment. A very small number do become worse however. If a child develops idiopathic scoliosis after the age of three and before the age of 9, the condition is labeled as juvenile idiopathic scoliosis, and approximately 10-20 percent of all cases fall into this category. Children who develop the condition during this time in their lives typically require the most serious treatment as their type of the disorder will likely worsen over time as their spine is not at present going through a period of major growth. And finally, when a child between the ages of 10 and 18 presents with idiopathic scoliosis it’s categorized as the adolescent type and is the most commonly seen by physicians. The condition for children at this age does not generally get worse in that the abnormal curving ceases.

When a child with the adolescent form of pediatric idiopathic scoliosis develops the condition, the curving the spine accelerates during periods of fast growth, i.e. growth spurts. Additionally, the disorder has been shown to have a genetic component and often more than one child within a family will develop an abnormal curving of the spine. And lastly, different forms and progressions of pediatric idiopathic scoliosis are more prevalent in males and females: for instance, the infantile type is more often seen in boys, but when a girl develops it the curves tend to be more drastic and require more treatment.

Pain is thankfully not a typical symptom of pediatric idiopathic scoliosis. But there are warning signs that can be visually observed, such as uneven hips or shoulders, a shoulder blade that juts outward more than its counterpart and an obvious curving of the spine to one side.