Congenital Scoliosis Signs & Characteristics

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Congenital scoliosis curves can sometimes be visible in infants and toddlers. But often, they’re detected in small children only if there’s been another reason to x-ray the child’s chest or back. Another possible clue to congenital scoliosis can be a urinary, renal, auditory or neural (nervous system) condition, since these can be associated with congenital scoliosis.

Congenital scoliosis is a condition present at birth (congenital). This condition occurs in children whose spinal vertebrae in utero formed abnormally (failure of formation), did not separate correctly (failure of segmentation), or there was a combination of both.

Signs of associated conditions that might indicate congenital scoliosis can include:

•   hairy patch or dimples on back
•   rib hump or small bump on back
•   pain or spasticity in lower extremities
•   stiff or short neck or spine
•   abnormally formed hand, arm or foot  
•   difficulty hearing
•   genitourinary or renal anomalies or defects
•   other musculoskeletal anomalies
•   chromosomal abnormalities

What characterizes congenital scoliosis?

Congenital is the least common form of scoliosis — affecting just one in 10,000 people and is not usually painful in children. This form of scoliosis is also greatly variable in severity — from mild to life-threatening. This condition is detected in infants and toddlers, sometimes not until adolescent growth spurt — and frequently never noted or noted incidentally.

In general, but not always, the younger the child is when the curve appears, the more severe the curve tends to be — and the more aggressive its progression (worsening) tends to be.

What other organ system abnormalities are associated with congenital scoliosis?

Organ system abnormalities associated with congenital scoliosis appear in half of patients. These may include:

•    genitourinary and renal
•    congenital heart defects
•    spinal cord abnormalities
•    auditory
•    rib abnormalities (can limit chest cavity and lung growth)
•    limb abnormalities (such as radial aplasia, Sprengel’s deformity)
•    nervous system (neurological, neural)

Can my child's spine curve progress (worsen) over time?

Curves can progress most aggressively (fast) during a child’s two main growth spurts:

•    at one to three years
•    pre-adolescent

The type and severity of your child's curve can help predict the risk of the curve progressing as a child grows. Some curve patterns progress slowly, while some progress very aggressively (especially in younger children).

Often, congenital scoliosis may become apparent during or just before the adolescent growth spurt. Common signs and symptoms may include:

•   head not centered with the rest of the body
•   uneven hip heights or positions  
•   uneven shoulder blade heights or positions  
•   uneven arm lengths
•   when bending forward, the left and right sides of the back are asymmetrical

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