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What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a spinal deformity that causes the spine to curve sideways.  The spine of someone with scoliosis will show up as an “S” or “C” shape rather than a straight line down the back. Scoliosis can cause the spine to rotate sideways, causing the hips or shoulders to be uneven. It commonly develops during the growth spurt just before puberty but also affects adults whose disc spaces wear out unevenly causing a tilting and collapsing of the spine.

In many cases the cause is unknown, but 30% of adolescent scoliosis patients often have a family history. In some cases, it is congenital meaning you were born with it.

Adult scoliosis can occur without a known cause, because of a childhood curvature that went undiagnosed, or it may be acquired as in degenerative adult scoliosis. Degenerative scoliosis occurs because the disc space wears out in an uneven fashion resulting in collapse and tilting of the spine. Degenerative scoliosis is the most common type of scoliosis in adults and usually affects the lumbar spine. Adult scoliosis can also be related to osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones of the spinal column.

The symptoms of scoliosis can vary widely depending on the degree of curvature, but may include:

  • Back pain
  • Spinal instability
  • Abnormal spine alignment
  • Functional limitations
  • Abnormal movements
  • Visibly curved back (more than normal)
  • Uneven shoulder heights
  • Uneven hip alignment
  • Shooting pains down the leg
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Changes in gait
  • Weakness of the legs
  • Numbness or tingling of the legs

Dr. Singh will review your medical history, perform an orthopedic examination and order imaging studies. This information can help to broadly determine the amount of scoliosis, and the degree of pain and disability that it is causing.

Multiple X-ray views of the spine help with measurements of the curvature, confirm a diagnosis of scoliosis, and show the associated wear and tear on the rest of the spine. If there is a concern for osteoporosis, a bone scan may help to show the density of the bone which is helpful for deciding treatment options. If there are symptoms suggesting nerve compression, an MRI may also be obtained to evaluate the condition of the discs, nerves and spinal structure to determine whether the curve of the spine is causing narrowing around the spinal cord or around nerve roots.

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If you or a loved has symptoms related to a spinal condition, contact Chicago spine surgeon Dr. Kern Singh who can assess your situation, provide an accurate diagnosis and guide you on the most suitable treatment options.

Dr. Kern Singh, MD is an internationally renowned spine surgeon specializing in outpatient minimally invasive and motion-preserving techniques and endoscopic spine surgery at Midwest Orthopedics at RUSH and Professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at RUSH University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Kern is one of the nation’s Top 100 spine surgeons and beloved by his patients for his compassionate care and excellent outcomes. He welcomes nationally and internationally-based patients.


  • Schwab F, Dubey A, Gamez L, El Fegoun AB, Hwang K, Pagala M, Farcy JP. Adult scoliosis: prevalence, SF-36, and nutritional parameters in an elderly volunteer population. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2005 May 1;30(9):1082-5. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000160842.43482.cd. PMID: 15864163.
  • Rubin J, Cleveland RJ, Padovano A, Hu D, Styner M, Sanders J. Lumbar Scoliosis in Postmenopausal Women Increases with Age but is not Associated with Osteoporosis. J Endocr Soc. 2021 Feb 15;5(5):bvab018. doi: 10.1210/jendso/bvab018. PMID: 33855252; PMCID: PMC8023369.
  • Palmisani M, Dema E, Cervellati S. Surgical treatment of adult degenerative scoliosis. Eur Spine J. 2013 Nov;22 Suppl 6(Suppl 6):S829-33. doi: 10.1007/s00586-013-3012-1. Epub 2013 Sep 24. PMID: 24061970; PMCID: PMC3830039.
  • Zhang Y, Liu C, Ge X. Clinical and radiographic outcomes of stand-alone oblique lateral interbody fusion in the treatment of adult degenerative scoliosis: a retrospective observational study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2022 Dec 27;23(1):1133. doi: 10.1186/s12891-022-06035-9. PMID: 36575399; PMCID: PMC9793660.
At A Glance

Dr. Kern Singh

  • Minimally invasive and endoscopic spine surgeon
  • Inventor and surgeon innovator with multiple patents in spinal surgery and instrumentation
  • Author of more than 10 textbooks in minimally invasive spinal surgery
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