Scoliosis, especially if the condition is not particularly severe, can be difficult to recognize in young children. Since the spine continues to develop into the teenage years as bodies grow, symptoms are generally subtle at a young age. Still, vigilant testing can potentially reveal asymmetrical posture, uneven hip or shoulder alignment, or curvature of the spine as signs of scoliosis in children.
Scoliosis is a progressive condition, so it is important to begin testing at a young age and continue until a child is fully developed. Children who do not show any symptoms at a young age will not necessarily be free from symptoms later in life. Conversely, slight spinal curvatures in young children will not necessarily continue to worsen and progress into severe scoliosis.
Doctors check for asymmetrical posture when they screen for signs of scoliosis in children. Patients disrobe and stand facing away from the physician. If the child’s head does not appear to be centered directly over the spine, or if the arms hang unevenly, there may be reason to believe that there spinal curvature is to blame. Note that asymmetrical posture is not synonymous with poor posture; slouching and slumping of the shoulders are not usually signs of scoliosis, just of a child not standing up straight.
Uneven hip and shoulder alignment can be another sign of scoliosis in children. A doctor might notice that one hip is settled higher than the other, or that one should is raised above the other. Poor alignment of the hips or shoulders indicates that a child might be showing signs of scoliosis.
During a scoliosis exam, physicians ask patients to touch their palms together and lean forward, allowing their arms to hang loosely below their heads. This allows the doctor to inspect the spine for curves. Scoliosis curves can occur in an “S” shape or in a “C” shape, which looks different than a straight, normal spine. In the early stages of scoliosis it might be difficult to see the “S” or “C” shapes clearly, so a doctor will feel the progression of the child’s spine. Touching the vertebrae and feeling any discontinuities can help diagnose spinal curvature.
Regular exams are required to monitor the signs of scoliosis in children. Scoliosis is a progressive condition, so the only way to monitor its development is to compare screening results year after year. Repeatedly screening for signs of scoliosis in children is the best way to make sure they receive treatment promptly if a problem is discovered.