Spine problems

If your baby or child has been diagnosed with a spinal problem — from a complex congenital (present at birth) condition to a less severe overuse injury — we know that you and your family are under stress. So, at Children’s Hospital Boston, we’ll approach your child’s treatment with sensitivity and support—for your child and your whole family.

If your child’s condition is serious, you can have peace of mind knowing that the team in the Boston Children's Spinal Program has treated a large volume of spinal problems that few pediatric hospitals have seen—and can provide expert diagnosis, treatment and care.

Curves of the spineWhat is the spine?

Made up of many individual bones called vertebrae, the spine is joined together by muscles and ligaments. Flat, soft discs separate and cushion each vertebra from the next. Because the vertebrae are separate, the spine is flexible and can bend. Together the vertebrae, discs, muscles and ligaments make up the vertebral column or spine.

Different regions of the spine are named differently. The cervical spine refers to the neck, the thoracic spine to the chest, and the lumbar and sacral spines to the lower back.

When to seek medical advice

Several spinal problems can be seen at or shortly after birth—or sometimes even before birth using a prenatal ultrasound. Others, such as idiopathic scoliosis, will usually develop as the child grows, most often during the child’s adolescent growth spurt. Congenital scoliosis is present at birth, but may not be apparent until later. Consult your pediatrician if your family has a history of spinal problems, or if your child is:

•   developing side-to-side curvatures (scoliosis)
•   developing asymmetry of her shoulders or waist
•   developing a round upper back (kyphosis)
•   experiencing unusual back pain

Who’s at risk for spinal problems?

Risk factors for developing spinal problems vary from condition to condition. Common risk factors and predispositions for some spinal conditions can include:

•   a family history of scoliosis
•   other birth defects
•   neuromuscular conditions
•   metabolic conditions that affect bones
•   syndromes that affect neurologic function
•   other genetic syndromes