Brian J. McHugh, MD, is a neurosurgeon with dual fellowship training in orthopedics and neurosurgery. 

As a neurosurgeon who specializes in spinal deformities, I want to help patients and their families understand their options for treating scoliosis.

On March 14, I’ll be discussing treatment options for scoliosis in children as part of Inova’s free “Ask the Expert” lecture series. But first, I wanted to address some of the questions I’m often asked about scoliosis in kids.

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves sideways in an “S” or “C” shape. There are several different types in children. Occasionally babies are born with spinal defects that cause the spine to curve. Some cases develop alongside other medical conditions, such as Marfan’s syndrome or certain neuromuscular disorders.

The most common form, however, is idiopathic scoliosis – a term that means we don’t actually know what causes it. This type of spinal deformity isn’t associated with other medical problems, but rather causes spinal curvature in otherwise healthy children. 

Who is at risk for idiopathic scoliosis?

Idiopathic scoliosis most often appears during adolescence, though it can sometimes strike younger children. And it’s more common in girls than in boys. We do know it’s not caused by things like carrying heavy backpacks or slouching.

How do I know if my child has idiopathic scoliosis?

The early signs are often subtle. You might notice that your child’s shoulders are tilted or one hip is higher than the other. Fortunately, pediatricians and schools regularly screen children for the condition, so any problems are likely to be identified.

What treatment options are available?

In many cases, scoliosis curves are relatively minor. They rarely cause pain, and they can often be left untreated. In these situations, we like to examine children several times a year to make sure the curvature isn’t worsening

In some cases, we recommend the child wear a brace to prevent the curve from getting worse. In cases where the curve is more than 45-55 degrees, we often recommend surgery to straighten the spine. Usually, we can correct the curve with a single operation.

Why should I consider Inova for scoliosis treatment?

I’m a neurosurgeon but my subspecialty training is in spinal deformity. I perform spinal surgeries every day, in both adults and children.

I don’t do it alone, though. I work closely with other neurosurgeons and pediatric orthopedic surgeons as part of the Children’s Scoliosis and Spine Program at Inova Children’s Hospital. It’s a coordinated effort to give our young patients the best possible results.


  1. Leslie on April 26, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    I have a soon to be 21 year old with asberger Epilepsy Sjogrens and a to be determined connective tissue disorder he has scoliosis and kyphosis in need to repair. He is 6’2” and weighs 114 lbs. would Dr McHugh consider him as a patient?

    • InovaNewsroom on May 8, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      Posted on behalf of Dr. McHugh: Yes, I can see your son as a patient. Please contact my office at 703-970-2670 to schedule an appointment. I see patients in offices in both Fairfax and Alexandria.

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