An estimated 6 million people in the United States have some form of scoliosis, and it affects people of all races, ages and socio-economic classes. Scoliosis is not a disease. It is the term used to describe an abnormal, lateral (side-to-side) curvature of the spine. The onset of scoliosis is usually between 10 and 15 years of age (around the time of an adolescent's big growth spurt). While some cases of scoliosis have an identifiable cause (like congenital spine deformities, cerebral palsy or spina bifida), more than 80% of the cases diagnosed are idiopathic, which means there is no known cause.
Why it's important to be aware of scoliosis.
Catching the beginning of scoliosis in children and teenagers ensures the most options for treating the curvature and slowing or stopping the progression. Children's bones are not yet fully hardened, so non-surgical treatments like bracing are frequently employed -- to not only attempt to correct existing abnormalities, but in severe cases to delay the need for surgery until the child is older.
How do you check for scoliosis and what are the signs?
Most students are given the Adam’s forward bend test routinely in school when they are in fifth and/or sixth grade to determine whether or not they may have scoliosis. The test involves the student bending forward with arms stretched downward toward the floor and knees straight, while being observed by a health care professional. This angle most clearly shows any asymmetry in the spine and/or trunk of the adolescent’s body. The health care professional is looking for abnormal appearance in the spine, hips and shoulders, specifically:
- A hump or uneven appearance in the rib cage.
- Any lateral deviation in the spine (asymmetry).
- Shoulders at different heights.
- One hip more prominent than the other.
What should you do if you suspect you or your child has scoliosis?
Make an appointment to be evaluated by a physician. If a visual/external exam indicates an abnormal spinal curve, the doctor will probably order an x-ray or, if the patient is a child under the age of 11, an MRI to determine the degree of the curvature. A lateral spinal curve greater than 25-30 degrees is considered significant. A curve greater than 45 degrees is severe and requires aggressive treatment.
Want to learn more?
Read more about scoliosis, its causes and treatment options in the Spine-Health.com Scoliosis.