What happens if scoliosis is not treated?

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Informed decision making is an important component of choosing whether to treat scoliosis. Learn about what can happen if scoliosis is not treated.

Key points

  • A young teen with a medium to large sized curve will probably see their curve increase without treatment.
  • Older teens with a small or medium curve will probably not see an increase.

Without treatment, your teen's curve may increase. Their doctor and an orthopaedic surgeon can advise as to whether surgery is the best option.

If your teen is younger, around nine to 13 years old, and still growing, and if they have a medium to large sized curve, the curve will increase in size as they continue to grow. Without treatment, the curve will probably increase. This may cause your teen physical deformity and occasional pain. It may make them less able to do physical activities. If the curve becomes severe, they may have some breathing problems. If surgery is delayed until adulthood, the amount of correction may not be as great and recovery from surgery may take longer.

If your teen is 15 years or older, and physically mature with little growth remaining, and if their curve is small or medium size (30 to 40 degrees), their curve will probably not increase. If their curve is greater than 40 to 50 degrees, the curve may increase but at a very slow rate. On average, such curves increase about one degree per year. In these cases, your teen may choose to "wait and see” how their curve changes before deciding to have surgery.

It is important for you and your teen to have an open discussion with the orthopaedic surgeon to discuss your teen’s specific situation. Decisions for surgery are generally based on looking at the risks and benefits of having surgery. This is called informed decision-making.

Listed in these pages are the pros and cons of having surgery compared to the pros and cons of not having scoliosis surgery. These are based on both short-term studies done when patients are in their teens, and long-term studies that follow teens into adulthood.

Last updated: June 1st 2008