Scoliosis 101: What You Need to Know

Nerves, vertebrae, joints, and muscles make up the intricate and complex system of your spinal column. Any deviation along the length of it — like a bend or curve caused by scoliosis — can cause pain and loss of function. 

Double board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Patrick McNulty at McNulty Spine in Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the country’s leading specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of scoliosis. If you suspect that you or your child might be suffering from this condition, there’s no better place to seek care than McNulty Spine. 

Signs of scoliosis

The early stages of scoliosis are subtle, but visible. Even if you’re not in pain yet, you may see the classic signs of the spinal curvature.

Uneven hips or shoulders

If you notice that one hip or shoulder is higher or more pronounced than the other, it may be caused by a curved spine. 

Tilted eye line

When the spine bends in an S or C pattern, it throws off your body alignment. If your neck leans to one side, your eye line will be slightly off as well.

Leading with your head

Scoliosis can reduce or flatten the normal curve of your neck, which makes your head appear to lead your body. If your ears don’t align with the top of your shoulders, you may have scoliosis. 

Tilted breasts

Scoliosis pulls one side and can make other body parts seem out of place. Nipples that don’t line up horizontally are a good example of this.


When you’re out of alignment because of scoliosis, you may walk with a slight limp as your body attempts to compensate.

Pronounced ribs

When you bend forward to touch your toes, do your ribs stick out on one side? This is a common sign of scoliosis.

Clothes don’t fit right

Anatomical changes caused by scoliosis can even be seen when you’re fully dressed. Look for uneven necklines, sleeve lengths, pant legs, and hemlines.

What scoliosis feels like

In the beginning, you may not see or feel scoliosis. But as it progresses, you’ll start to feel the effects.


When you have scoliosis, the curvature of your spine eventually puts pressure on the nerves in your back, leading to pain, weakness, numbness, and even pain in your extremities.

Difficulty breathing

In severe cases, scoliosis can put pressure on your chest cavity and lungs, making it hard to breathe.


A straight spine is efficient and holds your body upright with minimal effort. But a curved spine calls your supporting muscles into action to keep you balanced. You may notice that you get fatigued quickly.

Types of scoliosis

There are four main types of scoliosis, each categorized by what causes it.

Idiopathic scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type, and its cause is unknown, although some believe genetics may play a part. It can show up at any age, but is most frequently diagnosed during adolescence, affecting more than 5% percent of teens at any given time. This small percentage is even more encouraging when coupled with the fact that only 1% of those cases are serious enough to require surgery. 

Congenital scoliosis

Although it’s very rare (it only happens to 1 in 10,000 babies), congenital scoliosis occurs while the fetus is still forming in the womb.

Neuromuscular scoliosis

Certain diseases that affect the spine and muscles in your body and alter the way you walk can lead to scoliosis. For instance, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and muscular dystrophy are known to cause varying degrees of scoliosis.

Degenerative scoliosis

As your body ages, the joints in your spine gradually deteriorate and may lead to scoliosis.

Scoliosis by the numbers

Dr. McNulty uses several tests and tools to determine the best course of action, including X-rays, Adam’s test (bending forward), and the Cobb angle (measures the degree of your scoliosis). Here’s what the curve percentage numbers mean:

Dr. McNulty’s goal is to help you avoid surgery whenever possible. For our younger patients, he often accomplishes this with the revolutionary Tether System that allows for greater freedom of movement as it corrects your curved spine. 

If you’ve got scoliosis, you can trust your backbone to Dr. McNulty’s award-winning skills and treatment plans. For a consultation, call us at either our Henderson or Las Vegas location or request an appointment online.

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