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Pediatric Congenital Spine Deformities

What Are Congenital Spine Deformities?

Congenital spine deformities are disorders of the spine that develop in a child before birth. The vertebrae don’t form properly very early in fetal development, causing structural problems in the spine and spinal cord.

These deformities can range from mild to severe, and may cause other problems if untreated, such as:

  • Developmental problems with the heart, kidneys, or urinary tract
  • Paraplegia (paralysis of the legs and lower body)
  • Problems with breathing or walking

What Causes Congenital Spine Deformities?

Medical experts are uncertain what causes the defects responsible for congenital spine deformities. In these disorders, the vertebrae may be:

  • Partially formed or misshapen
  • Fused together
  • Missing

Types of Congenital Spine Deformities

A child may have one or more types of congenital spine deformity. Some commonly known types include:

  • Scoliosis: Curvature and/or twisting of the spine to either side (most common)
  • Kyphosis: Bowed or rounded back
  • Lordosis: Sway back

Symptoms of Congenital Spine Deformities

Pediatricians can often detect spine deformities at birth if there is any abnormal curvature in the back. Sometimes, these deformities may not be noticed until later childhood or adolescence, when symptoms worsen. Physical signs of congenital spine deformities include:

  • Abnormal curvature or twisting in the back, to either side, forward, or backward
  • Uneven shoulders, waistline, hips, or legs
  • Tilted pelvis
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty breathing

How Are Congenital Spine Deformities Diagnosed?

A pediatrician’s physical exam at birth can often reveal congenital spine deformities. Further tests that help confirm a diagnosis include:

  • X-rays to look for abnormal vertebrae
  • Diagnostic imaging, including 3D EOS, ultrasound, CT, and MRI scans, to assess vertebrae problems and check for related problems in the spinal cord or organs
  • Bone scans to assess bone health

Treatments for Congenital Spine Deformities

Treatment usually focuses on preventing congenital spine deformities from getting worse, rather than correcting them. Depending on the type and severity of your child’s condition, the pediatrician may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Back braces or casts in mild cases of scoliosis to prevent spine curvatures from worsening
  • Surgery for kyphosis and lordosis to improve spine alignment

Learn more about our Spine Program at Children’s National.

Children's Team

Children's Team


Matthew Oetgen

Matthew Oetgen

Division Chief, Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
Laura Tosi

Laura Tosi

Director, Bone Health Program
Orthopaedic Surgeon


Spine Program

Children’s National offers children with spinal deformities a range of treatments, including innovative casting techniques, and hope for a bright future.

Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine

From sprains and strains to complex congenital, Children’s National offers one of the most experienced pediatric orthopaedic practices in the nation with experience in treating all areas from head to toe.

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The Autism Behavioral Communications (ABC) support team. It is staffed by Eileen Walters, ABC program manager; Kathleen Atmore, an autism specialist and developmental neuropsychologist; and Chayna Humphrey, program assistant.

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