The purpose of this lecture was to give an overview of the natural history of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), in order to serve as guidance in the decision of performing surgery or not for the specific patient with AIS. A literature review was performed. Studies concerning long-term outcome in patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis that had received no treatment were used. Outcome in terms of curve size, pulmonary function, back function and quality or life/social life was compared. The literature review showed that single thoracic curves of 50°-75° progress 0.73°/year over a 40-year period. AIS do not result in increased mortality, but pulmonary symptoms may be associated with larger curves. Back pain is more frequent among patients with AIS. No study using modern quality of life questionnaires exists, but for social function, childbearing, and marriage no apparent disadvantageous effects were reported compared to the healthy population. The conclusion is that most individuals with AIS and moderate curve size around maturity function well and lead an acceptable life in terms of work and family. Some patients with larger curves have pulmonary problems, but not to the extent that this affects the life span. This needs to be taken into account when discussing surgery with the individual patient.
Keywords: Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis; Natural history; Untreated.