Have you ever admired a ballerina's perfectly arched body? Her graceful maneuvers exaggerate the spine's natural curve. Sometimes, however, the spine bends from side to side in an unnatural "C" or "S" shape called scoliosis.

Just 2% to 3% of us have scoliosis, says the National Scoliosis Foundation. Still, scoliosis worries parents because it can severely affect some children. Experts aren't sure what causes most types of scoliosis, but if anyone in your family has it, your child has a 20% chance of developing it.

Scoliosis usually appears during preadolescence or adolescence, and is more common in girls than boys. Experts say it may have something to do with the major growth spurt that occurs during this period.

A 3-year span in puberty worries doctors most, since the curve can worsen up to 25 degrees a year. As growth ends, scoliosis stops worsening.

Scoliosis can't be cured, but early diagnosis allows control:

  • With a stable curve of 20 degrees or less, the doctor will generally monitor the child with periodic X-rays.

  • A curve of 25 degrees or more in a child entering a growth spurt may pose a high risk for worsening. Doctors often prescribe a plastic brace and will instruct you on how long to wear. Wearing a brace should not prevent playing in sports as time out of brace is allowed for most activities. 

  • For a curve of more than 45 degrees and the child is growing or a curve of more than 50 degrees in a child whose bones have matured, the doctor may recommend surgery.

Red flags

Ask your child to bend forward from her waist, keeping her hands together.

If one side of her back is higher than the other, that could suggest scoliosis, experts say.

Watch for these signs after your child turns 8 years old:

  • Uneven shoulders

  • An uneven waist

  • Elevated hips

  • Prominent shoulder blade or blades

  • Leaning to one side