Back-to-School Health Check

Before school is the perfect time to screen for scoliosis

(Family Features) The leisurely days of summer are over and it's time to re-establish healthy habits and back-to-school routines. In addition to dental checkups and annual physicals, pediatric medical specialists recommend adding a scoliosis screening to back-to-school checklists.

Scoliosis, a musculoskeletal disorder that causes an abnormal curvature of the spine or backbone (sometimes resembling an "S" or "C"), is the most common deformity of the spine, affecting an estimated 6-9 million people in the United States.

Certain conditions can cause scoliosis, including muscle diseases, birth defects or injuries, but the most common scoliosis is idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown. Scoliosis is most commonly diagnosed between 10-15 years of age, during periods of rapid growth. Although 10 percent of adolescents may have the condition, not all will need care.

"Because most causes are unknown, early detection through routine screenings is key to providing the best possible outcome," said Amer Samdani, M.D., chief of surgery for Shriners Hospitals for Children® — Philadelphia.

Signs of scoliosis

Scoliosis can be hereditary and it is recommended that a child who has a relative with the condition receive regular checkups for early detection as they are 20 percent more likely to develop the condition. Pediatric medical experts recommend females be screened at least twice at ages 10 and 12 and males at either age 13 or 14.

Children and teens with scoliosis rarely exhibit symptoms and sometimes the condition is not obvious until the curvature of the spine becomes severe. In some cases, your child's spine may appear crooked or his or her ribs may protrude. Some other markers to watch for in a child who has scoliosis are:

  • Clothes not fitting correctly or hems not hanging evenly
  • Uneven shoulders, shoulder blades, ribs, hips or waist
  • Entire body leaning to one side

  • Appearance or texture of ribs sticking up on one side when bending forward
  • Head not properly centered over the body

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Diagnosing scoliosis

When confirming a diagnosis of scoliosis, a doctor will confer with you and your child while also reviewing your child's medical history; conducting a full examination of your child's back, chest, feet, legs, pelvis and skin; taking a series of X-rays; measuring curves; locating the apex of the curve and identifying the pattern of the curve.

Treatment of scoliosis
According to Samdani, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for scoliosis.

"Some cases will just need to be watched; others will need physical therapy, bracing or surgical procedures to stop the curve from progressing," he said. "At Shriners Hospitals, we offer the whole spectrum of treatments under one roof, all working together to get the best possible outcome for each child. We also treat children regardless of the families' ability to pay, so that often provides a huge relief to parents."

For more information on scoliosis screenings, care and treatment, visit

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A Life-Changing Discovery

For competitive swimmer Katie Lyons, a love for the sport began at 7 months old when her toes touched the pool's water for the first time. At age 4, Katie swam in her first meet. Weeks before she turned 10, her coach observed a rib cage protrusion that looked similar to another teammate who had been diagnosed with scoliosis during routine stretching exercises in practice, and contacted her parents. The next day, her pediatrician confirmed the life-changing discovery: she had scoliosis.

Within a week of being diagnosed, Katie traveled to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Greenville, where she began treatment for an "S" curvature of her spine and was given a 98 percent chance of needing surgery. She was fitted for a brace, which she wore 20 hours a day and only took off for swim practice and bathing. Now on her fourth brace, she has been removed from the surgical list and hopes to continue to avoid surgery as she goes through her adolescent growth spurts; which for many scoliosis patients, can send their curves into fast-forward.

Early detection gave Katie a wider range of options for the treatment of her scoliosis. The strength of her core and daily stretching from swimming has helped manage and lower her double curves.

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App Helps Parents Detect Signs of Scoliosis

You can also check your child's spine for scoliosis with the help of your smartphone through the SpineScreen app – available for free on the App Store and Google Play. For more information on the app and the importance of routine screening, visit

To be used as an initial at-home check, the app can detect abnormal curves when the phone is moved along a child's spine and determine if a follow-up visit with a doctor is necessary to confirm a potential diagnosis. If your child has scoliosis or any other orthopaedic condition, Shriners Hospitals for Children has 20 locations in the United States, Mexico and Canada that provide expert care.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images (School bus and doctor check-up)


Shriners Hospital for Children