Did you know that one out of 40 people in the US has scoliosis? The condition is a deformity of the spine — instead of being straight, it curves sideways and may look like an “s” or a “c.” June is National Scoliosis Awareness month. One goal of this campaign is to encourage parents, healthcare providers and educators to learn more about this potentially serious health condition.
Anyone can be diagnosed with scoliosis — from infants to the elderly. But most often, it’s discovered during adolescence, when children are growing rapidly. A spinal screening can be done in about 30 seconds
Myths About Scoliosis
Scoliosis isn’t caused by poor posture, heavy backpacks, sports activities or hours slumped over a cell phone. There’s no known cause in about 80 percent of scoliosis cases. The medical term for this type of scoliosis is idiopathic scoliosis, and nothing can be done to prevent it. But early detection may save a child from a lifetime of problems, such as abnormal appearance or pain. In severe cases, the deformity may interfere with normal lung and heart function.
Screening at School
The Spinal Screening Program was established by the Texas Legislature to detect abnormal spinal curvature in students. The Texas Department of State Health Services recently published its Spinal Screening Policy for the 2018-19 school year. Schools are required to screen all children in grades 6 and 9 for abnormal spinal curvature. Here’s the schedule:
- Girls are screened twice, at ages 10 and 12
- Boys are screened once, at age 13
All children must comply with the screening requirement. Children may be exempt from the school screening if any of the following paperwork is submitted:
- A signed form from a licensed professional that states the child is receiving medical care for one or more spinal problems.
- A signed form from a parent or guardian that states screening for abnormal spinal curvature has been performed (or will be performed) during a professional exam. Signed results of the forward bend test must be sent to the school.
- A signed form from a parent or guardian that states screening conflicts with the tenets and practices of a church or religious denomination.
What to Expect
Screening is done by a certified spinal screener or a licensed health care professional. Students are screened individually in a private room. It’s recommended that children remove their shirt or top so the screener can see their spine. Girls should wear a swimsuit top, halter top or sports bra. Children may be asked to pin up long hair. All children must take their shoes off for the screening.
The child will be asked to take six different positions, as the screener checks for spinal abnormalities. During the screening, the child will be asked to take the forward bend test: bend forward with the knees straight until the back is parallel to the floor, keeping palms of the hands together and hanging down, as if diving into a pool.
If the Test is Positive
Students who test positive for abnormal spinal curvature will be rescreened to confirm the findings. If the second screening is positive, students will be referred to their healthcare providers for follow-up. The provider will conduct an exam and may order x-rays. According to the Texas Spinal Screening Program guidelines, more than 90 percent of students with scoliosis require no treatment other than observation. For more severe curves or those that are progressing, bracing (called orthosis) may be recommended. Bracing can be very effective if the child wears the brace as prescribed. For severe cases, surgery is required.
Signs and Symptoms
Talk to your health care provider if you see one of the following signs and symptoms of scoliosis:
- One shoulder (or shoulder blade or hip) seems higher than the other
- One shoulder blade (or hip) stands out more than the other
- The head doesn’t look centered on the body
- When a person stands with arms hanging down, there’s more space between the arm and body on one side
- The waist looks flatter on one side; there are skin creases on only one side of the waist.
Visit the Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) website at srs.org for more information.
If you’d like to get involved, you can support the National Scoliosis Awareness Month campaign by asking our governor to designate June as Scoliosis Awareness Month in Texas. More than 30 other states have done so. Visit tinyurl.com/y7np7fxm to download a letter template.