June is Scoliosis Awareness Month and it is important to know that early detection and treatment of scoliosis is key to preventing the condition from worsening. When your child approaches the age of 10, you may notice a new component to their annual well-child visit: scoliosis screening.
Scoliosis is very common and affects approximately 4% of the population – that is 1 in 25 people. As such, it is important for parents and children to be aware of this common spinal deformity by considering the following:
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is defined as a lateral deviation or curvature of the spine of 10 degrees or greater. The majority of cases are mild and scoliosis most commonly affects adolescent age girls. The cause is unknown but appears to be multifactorial with genetics playing a key role. Early detection is vital so we can institute treatment when appropriate to prevent further deformity.
How do I recognize scoliosis?
Early detection of scoliosis is key to preventing severe deformity so staying current with your child’s annual wellness visits will ensure proper screening by a professional. Careful examination can also be performed by a parent/guardian, which can help with early detection. The majority of curves begin to develop in early adolescence and worsen through the pubertal growth spurt. This means girls in 6th and 7th grade and boys in 8th and 9th grade should be examined. Examine your child by looking at their back with their shirt off. Common signs to look for are:
- Uneven shoulders (one shoulder higher than the other)
- One shoulder blade (scapula) protrudes out further than the other
- Uneven waistline (one hip sticks out compared to the other)
- Have your child bend forward and touch their toes and see if one side of their ribs is higher than the other
What is treatment for scoliosis?
As mentioned earlier, most cases of scoliosis are mild and don’t require any treatment. However, if the curve becomes greater than 25 degrees, then bracing is usually recommended. Bracing has been shown to be very effective at preventing scoliosis progression, thus avoiding surgery. Surgery is usually only indicated when the curve is severe (greater than 50 degrees in most cases).
Is scoliosis painful?
The majority of scoliosis cases are not painful and are discovered incidentally by the patient, parent or primary care provider. If you have scoliosis and back pain, each is usually a different diagnosis and treated separately with physical therapy commonly prescribed for the back pain.
Will the curve prevent me from engaging in physical activities?
Most kids can continue to engage in all physical activities without restrictions with rare exceptions.
Will the curve get worse for the rest of my life?
Most curves will stop progressing after puberty and will remain stable for the majority of the rest of your life.
This is an important reminder to stay up to date on your child’s wellness visits, as scoliosis screening will be an important part of their visit. If your child, friend or loved one has scoliosis, consider contacting the Valley Children’s Orthopaedics Department – ranked as one of the best in the country by U.S. News and World Report for six consecutive years. For more information on scoliosis, visit valleychildrens.org/orthopaedics or settingscoliosisstraight.org.
About the Author
Fellowship-trained in in pediatric orthopaedics, Dr. Kerry Loveland is the medical director of pediatric orthopaedic surgery at Valley Children's Healthcare. Ranked nationally as a Best Children’s Hospital in Orthopedics by US News & World Report for six consecutive years, Valley Children’s offers advanced inpatient and outpatient medical care to children and adolescents with acute and chronic orthopaedic needs. Performing about 2,200 pediatric surgeries and more than 30,000 outpatient visits a year, Valley Children’s pediatric orthopaedic surgeons specialize in the treatment of complex conditions such as congenital deformities of the upper and lower extremities, spinal disorders, sports-related injuries and neuromuscular diseases. Our surgeons are also experts at treating complex fractures quickly while preventing surgical complications. Learn more about our specialized care at valleychildrens.org/orthopaedics.