Your scoliosis questions, answered

OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital provides team-based care and the latest techniques for children and teens. Our multidisciplinary spine team includes Dr. Scott Yang, Dr. Christina Sayama and Dr. Matthew Halsey. We sat down with Dr. Yang to ask him some frequently asked questions about scoliosis.

What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that occurs from a variety of potential causes. This can lead to a deformity of the trunk, and – only in very severe cases or very young patients – lead to problems in pulmonary function. The time that the curvature of the spine gets worse corresponds to when the child is growing rapidly.

ScoliosisThe most common type of scoliosis occurs during the early teenage years when the child is growing rapidly; this is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Other children can have scoliosis due to abnormal development of the spine in-utero (congenital scoliosis), or due to a neurologic condition such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida (neuromuscular scoliosis).

How is scoliosis diagnosed?
Scoliosis is often initially diagnosed with a clinical examination of the back. The doctor will often have the patient bend forward and look for a curvature or abnormal hump along the back. X-rays of the spine are obtained to confirm the diagnosis.

Why are girls more likely to get scoliosis?
It’s unclear exactly why girls are more likely to get adolescent scoliosis. Some believe it has to do with the timing of the adolescent growth spurt, though there is no proven answer. Other causes of scoliosis (including congenital and neuromuscular scoliosis) affect girls and boys equally.

What kind of treatments or procedures are available for patients with scoliosis?
If a child is very young, casting of the spine has been very effective in controlling and, in some cases, resolving the scoliosis. Bracing can be a very effective tool to help prevent progression of the scoliosis to a large curve. In young children, to allow for the spine to continue to grow, there are “growth friendly” spine surgery options including magnetic rods that lengthen as the child grows. In older children and adolescents, surgery to correct the curvature and fuse the spine can be indicated in larger curves.

What advice or information would you give someone who will have surgery for scoliosis?
In older children and adolescents, surgery to correct the curvature and fuse the spine may be recommended if the curve is large. We understand how difficult this decision is for families and we respect that process. The surgery is done very carefully with real-time live monitoring of the spinal cord to prevent injury. Patients and families can typically expect a surgery to last four to seven hours depending on how severe the curvature is. Patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis typically stay in the hospital three to four days after the procedure.


Scott YangScott Yang, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital



To schedule an appointment with a member of our multidisciplinary spine team, please call 503 346-0640 and ask to be seen at our Portland location or our Salem location.