Scoliosis and Kyphosis

While most people’s spines are not perfectly straight, certain conditions can cause spinal deformity. These include scoliosis and kyphosis

Surgery to address a deformed spine can dramatically improve the quality of life for someone with severe scoliosis or kyphosis. At Virginia Mason, we have renowned spine surgeons who are experts in performing complex spinal surgery. The team approach they developed has led to a dramatic reduction in complications, and data for their evidence-based outcomes has been featured in the journal of the Scoliosis Research Society.


Scoliosis is an abnormal curving of the spine. Many people have slightly curved spines, but those with severe scoliosis have spines shaped like a "C" or "S". One shoulder may be higher than the other or the pelvis may be tilted.

Generally, scoliosis is present at birth when a baby’s ribs or vertebrae have not formed properly, or develops during the growth years. The cause is unknown. Scoliosis is also sometimes caused by a neuromuscular condition such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.

Most people with scoliosis do not need treatment. A back brace for children over age 10 is sometimes recommended to stop further curving. Physical rehabilitation can help strengthen the supporting muscles of the spine and in the maintenance of normal functional activity.

 Usually there are no symptoms, but a deformed spine from severe scoliosis can cause:

  • Breathing problems
  • Low back pain
  • Persistent pain if there is wear and tear of the spine bones
  • Spine or nerve damage


Kyphosis is a curving of the spine into a severally bent forward posture, commonly known as a dowager’s hump. This curving can cause pain, fatigue and difficulty breathing.

In adolescents, kyphosis (known as Scheuermann's disease) is caused by the wedging together of several vertebrae. This is a development issue that usually involves the thoracic spine and in rare cases, involves the lumbar area. In adults, kyphosis can be caused by degenerative spine disease, compression fractures from osteoporosis and various other diseases such as muscular dystrophy, polio and spina bifida.

For more information about scoliosis and kyphosis you can contact the Spine Center at Virginia Mason by calling (206) 417-7463.