Could Your Child Have Scoliosis? 2 Signs to Watch For

Curving of the spine often appears during the preteen years
Could Your Child Have Scoliosis? 2 Signs to Watch For

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 they aren’t in pain. However, when it comes to scoliosis, which is an abnormal spine curvature, back pain isn’t usually a symptom.

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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 basics

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% 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

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Your child might have scoliosis if one shoulder looks higher than the other when they stand 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 isn’t level or appears uneven or tilted when they’re standing up straight, they may have scoliosis.

What to do if you suspect your child may have 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:

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  1. Have your child stand up straight, keeping her knees straight.
  2. 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, they’ll 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.

Treatment options can range from observation to bracing to surgery. The choice depends on:

  • How severe the curve is.
  • Your child’s age at diagnosis.
  • How much growing they still has left to do.

Exercises that stretch and strengthen the core, like yoga, can also help your child manage the condition, Dr. Gurd says.

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