A. Definition

Scoliosis is defined as a lateral (toward the side) spinal curvature of more than 10 degrees to the right or left as the examiner faces the patient (in the coronal plane). Deformity also can exist to the front or back (in the sagittal plane).

B. General information

Approximately 2% to 3% of Americans at age 16 have scoliosis. However, less than .1% have spinal curves measuring greater than 40 degrees, which is the point at which surgery becomes a consideration. Overall, girls are more likely to be affected than boys.

Most cases of scoliosis are mild and need no treatment. Some children, however, develop spinal deformities that continue to worsen as they grow. Severe scoliosis can be disabling. An especially severe spinal curve can reduce the amount of space within the chest, making it difficult for the lungs to function properly. Some children need to wear a brace to stop the curve from worsening. Others may need surgery to straighten a severely curved spine and to keep the scoliosis from worsening. Scoliosis is best treated while the child is young as the body responds better to treatment when the spine is still flexible and still growing.

There are several types and causes of scoliosis:

  • Congenital scoliosis is caused by a bone abnormality present at birth.
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis is a result of abnormal muscles or nerves. It is seen, most frequently, in people with spina bifida or cerebral palsy, or in those with various conditions that are accompanied by, or result in, paralysis.
  • Degenerative scoliosis may result from traumatic bone collapse due to illness or injury, back surgery, or osteoporosis.
  • Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type of scoliosis and has no identifiable cause. There is strong evidence that idiopathic scoliosis is inherited.

C. Social Security Administration Medical Listing 101.04 — Disorders of the spine

Scoliosis is addressed with other disorders of the spine in both Parts A and B of the Social Security Administration’s Listing of Impairments. While a diagnosis of scoliosis does not necessarily constitute a disability, SSA recognizes that severe cases can be disabling. In addition to medically appropriate imaging and alternative examinations, you must show how your child’s scoliosis negatively affects his or her functioning.

In its evaluation of spinal disorders, the SSA considers loss of function, the inability to ambulate effectively, limitation of spinal range of motion, associated muscle weakness, sensory or reflex loss and pain or other symptoms due to the compromise of a nerve root or the spinal cord, itself.

Your representative can help you determine whether your child’s scoliosis is severe enough for him or her to qualify for disability benefits under the guidelines of the Social Security Administration.