June is the month we begin to feel summer kick in, the traditional start of beach season and more time spent outdoors with the kids. June also is National Scoliosis Awareness Month, a perfect time to monitor your little beachcombers to see if they might exhibit signs of a curve in their spine, such as one shoulder blade being higher than the other, or an uneven waist.
Scoliosis affects 1 in 40 Americans. If left untreated, it can get worse and may cause chronic back pain, impact heart and lung function and take a toll on self-esteem. Screening for the condition is quick and non-invasive. With early detection and proper treatment, people diagnosed with scoliosis can lead healthy, active lives.
According to The National Scoliosis Foundation most cases of scoliosis are diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 15, but the condition also affects infants and adults. It is a condition that affects people of all races, classes and genders. Girls are eight times more likely than boys to have a curve that will progress to a magnitude that requires treatment. Scoliosis is common in children with a variety of congenital and neuromuscular diseases, but it is most prevalent in seemingly healthy children, with no known cause (idiopathic).
Most curvatures are minor and require only that patients are monitored by their healthcare providers. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, one-quarter of children with spinal curves require medical attention. Each year, an estimated 30,000 children are fitted for a brace and more than 100,000 children and adults diagnosed with scoliosis undergo surgery.*
Fewer than half of US states currently legislate screening for scoliosis at schools, so it is important that parents, teachers, coaches, healthcare professionals and children are aware of the early signs of scoliosis. Additionally, advances in science and technology mean both the diagnosis and treatment of scoliosis are improving every year.*
Healthcare providers routinely check kids for scoliosis during regular physical exams, and some schools also test for scoliosis. If scoliosis is suspected, X-rays may be ordered to measure the curvature of the spine. The angle of the curve, measured in degrees on the X-ray, will help determine whether it needs to be treated and, if so, how.
X-rays also help determine the type of scoliosis and how mature the child's skeleton is, which helps the healthcare provider to predict if the scoliosis may progress. The scoliosis X-ray might be repeated at regular intervals (sometimes every 3-12 months) to check whether the curve is getting bigger or to monitor the effects of treatment. If a neurological abnormality is suspected, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be ordered to look at the spinal cord.**
In 90 percent of cases, scoliotic curves are mild and do not require active treatment. In growing adolescents, it’s important that curves be monitored for change by periodic examination and standing X-rays as needed. Increases in spinal deformity require evaluation by an orthopedic surgeon to determine if active treatment is required.
Treatment can range from observation and physical therapy to non-operative bracing to surgery, based on a variety of factors: patient age, bone age (the maturation of bone is not always the same as the chronological age), degree of curvature, location of curve in the spine, status of menses/puberty, gender, curve worsening and associated symptoms such as back pain or shortness of breath. **
Through the combined vigilance by parents, educators and our clinical community, we can all help catch scoliosis early and hopefully prevent a future lifetime of difficulty for the young people in our lives. To that end, the National Scoliosis Foundation has created a helpful, kid-friendly 10-minute video for schools and parents, called “Catch the Curve.” Check it out and share it with your kids and their teachers, and ask if your local school does scoliosis checks. Let’s all do our part to catch the curve!
*National Scoliosis Foundation: https://sites.google.com/site/wwwscoliosisorgawareness/scoliosis-media-c...
**National Institutes of Health / Nemours: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/xray-scoliosis.html