Spinal Curves in Scoliosis

Topic Overview

Doctors use X-ray images of a person's spine to measure spinal curvature. A curve or angle of the spine is measured in degrees and describes how severe the curve is. (The angle is determined by the intersection of lines projected from the top and bottom of the curve.) If the spine is straight, there is no angle; this would be a 0-degree curve. If the spine is curved, the angle can be measured. The larger the curve, the larger the angle or degree measurement. For example, a 10-degree curve is considered a mild curve, and a 50-degree curve is considered a severe curve.

Many people have some curve in their spine. In fact, spinal curves that are less than 10 degrees are considered a normal variation of the spine. Curves that are greater than 10 degrees may be monitored (to see whether the curve is getting worse) or may need treatment.

In addition to the severity of the curve, curves are described by their direction and location.

  • Direction is based on which way the curve bends away from the center of the body. For example, if the inner side of the curve is to the right, it is called a right curve.
  • Location is determined by the spinal bone at the center of the curve. The spine is divided into three parts: neck region (cervical), chest area (thoracic), and lower back (lumbar). A curve may be labeled according to the number of spinal bones involved. For example, T5 to T12 means that the curve involves the 5th through the 12th chest (thoracic) spinal bones.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
Last Revised July 26, 2013

Last Revised: July 26, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Decision Points

Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.

You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:

Interactive Tools

Get started learning more about your health!

Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.

Symptom Checker

Feeling under the weather?

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.

Symptom Checker