What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis causes a sideways curve of your backbone, or spine. The curve is often S- or C-shaped. Scoliosis most commonly occurs in late childhood and early teens, when children grow quickly. Girls are more likely to have it than boys. It can run in families. Symptoms include leaning to one side and having uneven shoulders and hips.

Doctors use your medical and family history, a physical exam and imaging tests to diagnose scoliosis. Treatment depends on your age, how much more you are likely to grow, how much curving there is and whether the curve is temporary or permanent. People with mild scoliosis might only need checkups to monitor if the curve is getting worse. Others might need to wear a brace or have surgery.

What is kyphosis?

Kyphosis, another spinal deformity, is an excessive curvature of the upper back, often with rounded shoulders. It also is called round back, hunchback or dowager’s hump. Kyphosis can occur at any age, although rarely at birth. In severe cases, it can cause pain or breathing difficulties due to pressure on the lungs.

Causes of kyphosis include:

  • Degenerative diseases of the spine, such as arthritis or disc degeneration
  • Muscle weakness or poor posture
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spine injury
  • Slipping of one vertebra (spine bone) forward on another—a condition called spondylolisthesis
  • Scheuermann’s disease (wedging together of several spine bones in young people; cause is unknown)

Treatment for kyphosis ranges from back exercises and physical therapy in mild cases to surgery to correct severe curvature.

Source: NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Learn more about brain and spine neurological conditions at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Diagnosing scoliosis and kyphosis

Following a thorough history and neurological exam, Ohio State Spine Care specialists may recommend imaging tests, including:

  • X-rays of the spine
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Electromyography (EMG) and electrophysiological testing

Treating scoliosis and kyphosis

Ohio State offers treatments ranging from physical therapy to the most complex spine surgeries. Our physicians, therapists and other caregivers provide you with options that increase mobility and reduce pain. Most people who come to Ohio State Spine Care don't require surgery.

Nonsurgical treatments

One of Ohio State’s strengths is our physical therapy program, with therapists who specialize in spine conditions. Following an examination of posture, spine mobility, strength and flexibility, our physical therapists customize a plan for you. We take into account any impairments or functional limitations you have. Typically, you’ll work one-on-one with a therapist on pain-relieving movement strategies and on improvements in strength and flexibility.

Additional nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Education on back care, and recommendations for specific needs (such as job demands, recreational activities, home set-up)
  • Real-time ultrasound imaging (RUSI) of movement in anatomical structures to retrain the deep stabilizing musculature of your spine (a highly researched, evidence-based intervention)
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Weight loss guidance emphasizing healthier eating and exercise to ease pressure on the spine
  • Pilates, yoga and aquatic therapy to strengthen back muscles
  • Acupuncture, provided in Ohio State Spine Care, or dry needling for pain control through Ohio State’s Center for Integrative Medicine
  • Spinal cord stimulation in the Center for Neuromodulation using an implanted device similar to a pacemaker to deliver mild electrical impulses to the spinal cord before pain signals arrive. Instead of pain, you feel a tingling sensation
  • Smoking Cessation Clinic through Ohio State's Ross Heart Hospital to promote bone health
  • Spine orthobiologics, also known as stem cell therapy, activates the body’s natural healing process through injections of the body’s own healthy cells into the injured area to stimulate tissue regeneration and natural healing

Surgical treatments

If conservative measures are not effective and your quality of life is compromised due to nerve pain or spinal cord compression, reconstructive spine surgeries may help. Surgery can offer you pain elimination, restored strength, mobility, the ability to stand upright and improved quality of life.

Reconstructive spine surgeries offered at Ohio State include:

  • Pedicle subtraction osteotomy (PSO) – removal of a wedge of bone from the spinal column to reduce curvature
  • Vertebral column resection (VCR) – removal of one or more vertebrae (bones of the spinal column) from the spine for proper repositioning and straightening

We perform more than 500 complex spine reconstruction surgeries a year, far exceeding the number of cases performed by any hospital system in central Ohio.

Why choose Ohio State for treatment of scoliosis and kyphosis?

Patient Stories

Pam’s journey with scoliosis

Pam has dealt with painful back problems her entire life. Born with scoliosis, her spinal deformity became so debilitating, she could hardly move. Pam found herself walking bent over; she had difficulty breathing or taking the stairs. Finally, Pam visited Stephanus Viljoen, MD, a neurosurgeon specializing in spine disorders at Ohio State, who performed a surgical procedure to straighten her spine. After surgery and physical therapy, Pam is finally walking tall and pain-free.



Ohio State conducts innovative research in the laboratory, as well as through clinical trials.

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Areas of focus include:

Biologics Studies: Biologics are therapies created with the aid of living cells. During spine reconstruction surgery, our surgeon applies a special biologic material wherever bone has been cut to help remaining bone heal, or to help two bones grow together. We play an important role nationally in testing and refining both biologic and ceramic materials that aid bone regrowth.

International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM): Membership in this elite organization allows us to engage with other top U.S. medical centers in global research studies on back pain. As we measure our results against established international standards, we share best practices and elevate our standard of care.

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