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A Parent’s Guide to Congenital Spinal Deformities

As a parent, you want to be able to spot potential medical problems in your child as soon as possible so that they can receive treatment as soon as possible. In some cases, spinal deformities can be congenital, meaning that the spine did not form properly while the child was in the womb. Malformation of the spine can lead to structural problems later on in life.

Fortunately, with early detection and treatment, most congenital spine conditions will not progress to become severe structural problems. In some cases, a spinal deformity can be detected at birth with a physical exam, but for others the deformity may not be detected until later on, when the deformity worsens. Let’s discuss some of the most common congenital spine deformities and how you can spot them in your child.


Scoliosis is one of the most common spinal deformities in children. Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine. Scoliosis can cause the spine to curve in three different ways. With levoscoliosis, the spine has a single curve to the left. With dextroscoliosis, the spine has a single curve to the right. In some cases, the spine has two curves, resembling an “S” shape. If scoliosis is detected in a child, it is important to monitor the curvature of the spine; the curvature can get worse over time. In some cases, a back brace or surgery may be needed to fix the curve.

Signs of scoliosis include a curve in the spine, uneven shoulders, protrusion of one shoulder blade, an asymmetrical waistline, or uneven hip height. Many schools will screen for scoliosis, but if your child’s school doesn’t, look out for these symptoms and see a spine specialist if you suspect a deformity. Early treatment can help to stop the progression of the curve.


The upper back naturally has a slight forward curve called a kyphotic curve, which is normally within a range of 20 to 50 degrees. If the spine has a curve that is greater than 50 degrees, it is called kyphosis. Though kyphosis can occur in the neck or low back, it is most common in the upper back. Although kyphosis is most commonly caused by osteoporosis in older adults, it can be present in infants and young children due to a malformation of the spine in the womb. It can also occur as a result of poor posture or neuromuscular disorders like cerebral palsy or spina bifida. Scheuermann’s disease is a common form of kyphosis in children that occurs when the back of the spine grows more quickly than the front of the spine, resulting in wedge-shaped vertebrae and a forward curve in the spine.

The most noticeable sign of kyphosis is a hunched-forward appearance. Sometimes kyphosis can cause back pain, but some do not have any symptoms at all. If a child has Scheuermann’s disease, the curvature in the back remains even when lying down. If the condition is detected early on, bracing and other nonsurgical treatment may be effective in stopping the progression of the curve, but in more severe cases, a spinal fusion may be needed to straighten the spine.


Just as the upper spine naturally has an forward curve, the lower spine has a slight inward curve called a lordotic curve. If there is an excessive inward curve in the spine, the condition is known as lordosis. Although lordosis most commonly occurs in the lower spine, it can also occur in the neck. In some cases, lordosis in the lower back occurs alongside kyphosis in the upper back. Lordosis can cause back pain, sometimes even to the point that it restricts certain movements.

The most common sign of lordosis is that the patient appears swayback, with the buttocks pushed outward. While lying down, a person with lordosis will have a space between the lower back and the surface. If the curve is flexible, aggressive treatment may not be needed. However, if curve is fixed and does not flex when the person bends forward, treatment will be necessary. In many cases, bracing and physical therapy are effective, but in more severe cases, surgery may be needed to correct the problem.

In the case of congenital spine deformities, early detection and treatment is key. With the proper