What is a Scoliosis Screening?

B. Miller

A scoliosis screening is a simple physical examination used to check to see if an adolescent is showing signs of developing scoliosis in the spine. Schools may offer yearly screenings, and a child should also receive a scoliosis screening as part of his or her yearly physical exam at a doctor. This scoliosis check is very simple; the patient will lift his or her shirt and then lean slightly forward so the outline of the spine can be seen through the skin, which will make it easy to see if the spine looks healthy or if a curve is present.

Scoliosis causes curvature of the spine.
Scoliosis causes curvature of the spine.

A normal spine should be completely straight all the way down the back. A spine that is developing scoliosis, however, will have at least one lateral curve in it. Some spines will actually appear to be S-shaped if there is more than one curve going to either side. Since scoliosis will usually first appear in adolescence, a scoliosis screening is usually done in middle school by the school nurse. The family physician will also perform a screening as well, and if any curves appear, further tests such as x-rays may be ordered to determine the extent of the curve.

Uneven hip and shoulder alignment can be a sign of scoliosis in children.
Uneven hip and shoulder alignment can be a sign of scoliosis in children.

A yearly scoliosis screening is important because it allows the spinal deformity to be caught early, ideally while the child is still growing. This way, treatment can be started as soon as possible, which can help to prevent the curve from progressing further, and in some cases even reverse it. It is important to treat scoliosis, because if left untreated, the curve will typically progress; this can lead to a marked difference in the height of each shoulder, back and hip pain, and even respiratory problems if one side of the chest is compressed more so than the other side.

After a scoliosis screening, a doctor will also have a basis to compare it to future screenings. Curves under a certain degree are typically no cause for concern unless they progress, so a doctor will be able to keep an eye on any curves and see if they are changing. If subsequent scoliosis screenings show that the curves are getting worse, treatment options such as bracing and physical therapy may be used to keep the spine in alignment and strengthen the supporting muscles. In extreme cases, surgery may be required to correct a curve that is affecting other areas of the body, such as the respiratory system.

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