If you’re wondering about an unusual curve or slight twist of your child’s back or spine, you may think it’s nothing to worry about as long as he or she isn’t in pain. However, when it comes to scoliosis, which is an abnormal spine curvature, back pain isn’t usually a symptom.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
So how can you tell if your child has scoliosis?
Pediatric orthopedic surgeon David Gurd, MD, explains what signs parents should watch for, and when the condition most commonly occurs.
Scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine that also includes rotation, is common — it affects about 7 million people in the United States. The condition often shows up in the preteen years.
“Scoliosis can occur at any age, but about 80 percent happens around ages 11 to 13,” Dr. Gurd says.
The exact cause is unknown, but genetics likely plays a role, he says. Contrary to popular belief, the condition affects boys and girls equally. But girls are more likely to have severe cases, he says.
Signs your child might have scoliosis
When it comes to identifying scoliosis, there are two main signs parents should watch for.
1. Uneven elevation of the shoulders
Your child might have scoliosis if one shoulder looks higher than the other when she stands up straight, Dr. Gurd says.
“Girls might notice if they are wearing a dress or tank top that the straps appear uneven,” he says.
2. Uneven waistline
If your child’s waistline is not level or appears uneven or tilted when he is standing up straight, your child may have scoliosis.
What to do if you suspect scoliosis
If you suspect your child has scoliosis, make an appointment to discuss your concerns with your pediatrician.
Your child’s physician will likely do a “forward bend” test to look closely for signs of the condition. You can have your child try the experiment at home if you suspect a problem.
Here’s how it works:
- Have your child stand up straight, keeping her knees straight.
- Have her bend down at the waist, bringing the forehead into the belly button and trying to roll the back forward while bending.
“If your child has scoliosis, when you have them do the forward bend test, you’re going to see that one side of the ribs — typically the right side — looks higher compared to the other,” Dr. Gurd says.
If your pediatrician sees signs of scoliosis, he or she will order an X-ray that will help measure the curvature to determine the condition’s severity.
What to expect after a scoliosis diagnosis
“One question I’m often asked is, ‘What’s the chance of my child’s scoliosis progressing?’ ” Dr. Gurd says. “And the answer is, the younger your child is at diagnosis, the more growth that remains and the greater the risk of curvature progression.”
Also, children who have a larger curve at a young age have a higher chance of progression, he says.
- How severe the curve is
- Your child’s age at diagnosis
- How much growing he still has left to do
Exercises that stretch and strengthen the core, such as yoga, can also help your child manage the condition, Dr. Gurd says.