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What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis of the spine, historically known as “the dangerous curve,” has been couched in the language of risk and fear for well over a century. Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine that causes compression on one side of the body. It also involves a rotation of the spine, in which the vertebrae twist around the long axis of the spine. It's estimated that 4% of all children ages 10 to 14 have detectable scoliosis.

For those with more severe scoliosis, back muscle fatigue and pain may be felt and the abnormal compression of the ribs can put pressure on vital organs including the heart, lungs and intestines. About 50% of children with scoliosis will need some form of treatment or at least require close follow-up with a doctor. Prompt treatment will usually prevent the condition from worsening.


The exact cause of scoliosis is unknown. Genetics are believed to play a role as are diseases such as polio, cerebral palsy and juvenile osteoporosis. More than two thirds of cases, particularly those that develop later in childhood, are idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. In fact, Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS) is the most common form of scoliosis, with 60-80% of cases occurring in girls. Onset for boys is usually during early childhood.

Surgical Treatments

The healthcare system in Canada currently focuses on bracing, surgery or electro-spinal stimulation to support the spine. These treatments are often necessary depending on the severity of the curve; however, we suggest patients take some time to learn the specifics of their condition and of the treatment being proposed. Too often the long-term impacts of surgery are not discussed, nor the need for lifelong attention to exercise and wellness.

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Non-Surgical Treatments

Long-term back care requires ongoing strength, flexibility and mobility training, as well as attention to aspects of emotional and mental well-being. Non-operative treatments for scoliosis, including movement-based options such as dance, Pilates, stretching protocols and yoga, are demonstrating heartening results. Alternative treatments alone may work in some cases while others may require a mix of surgical and non-surgical approaches.

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Martha Carter interviews esteemed Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Stephen Tredwell

Dr. Tredwell discusses the many aspects of scoliosis surgery, its evolution and impacts, in addition to the role supportive care can play. He gives particular attention, and shares useful information, relevant to teenagers considering their options.