A scoliosis exam is a quick, easy way for your provider to diagnose scoliosis in you or your child. A scoliometer helps them see how curved your spine is (if at all). Your provider will track any changes in the degree of your spine’s curve over time as they monitor the scoliosis.


What is a scoliometer?

A scoliometer is a tool healthcare providers use to diagnose and track scoliosis. It’s used to identify pediatric and adolescent scoliosis and adult scoliosis.

Scoliometers look like a cross between a ruler and a level. It’s a flat tool with a rounded notch in the bottom edge. A provider will place a scoliometer against your spine to read the degree of its curve.

A reading from a scoliometer is only part of how your provider will diagnose scoliosis. They’ll also do a physical exam on your spine, and they might do X-rays, too.

A healthcare provider is the only one who can definitely diagnose scoliosis and tell you how it needs to be treated. You might be able to buy a scoliometer online or download a scoliometer app. Talk to a healthcare provider about the correct way to use apps on your phone or tablet. Don’t diagnose any health conditions yourself at home. Visit a provider if you notice any changes in your child’s spine.

Talk to your provider if you have questions about your back or spine health.

When is a scoliometer used?

A healthcare provider will use a scoliometer during a physical exam to check you or your child for scoliosis.

Your child’s provider might regularly screen them for scoliosis at their regular appointments. Providers at your child’s school might also check kids for signs of scoliosis.

If your provider suspects your spine has an abnormal curve, they might have you bend forward over your waist — you might see this referred to as an Adams forward bend test. This’ll expose your spine and show its curve. If your provider sees or feels something in your spine that might be scoliosis, they’ll use a scoliometer to measure the degree of your spine’s curve.

Who uses a scoliometer?

Any healthcare provider can use a scoliometer to check the curve in your spine.

A provider at your child’s school might use a scoliometer to check their spine during a routine screening. Usually, school screenings are only bend tests that can catch early signs of scoliosis, but they can sometimes include a scoliometer reading. The provider at your child’s school will let you know if they find anything and when you should follow up with your regular provider or pediatrician.


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Test Details

How does a scoliometer work?

A scoliometer looks a little like a ruler combined with a level you might use at home to make sure you’re hanging a poster straight.

Scoliometers have a chamber of fluid with an air bubble in them, just like a level. The measurements on a scoliometer don’t measure distance like a ruler. They measure degrees away from 0. If your spine has more of a curve left or right than it should, a scoliometer will show that in a number of degrees.

A scoliosis exam is a simple procedure a healthcare provider can perform in their office:

  • The provider will have you take your shirt off and bend forward over at your waist.
  • They’ll look at and feel your spine. If you have moderate or severe scoliosis, they’ll probably be able to see and feel your spine’s unnatural cure.
  • Your provider will place the scoliometer on your spine. The notch cut out from its bottom edge will fit over your spine.
  • With the scoliometer resting on your spine, your provider will see any tilting or turning in your spine. The air bubble in the scoliometer will move to the left or the right to match the curve of your spine (if there’s a curve). It’s similar to the way the bubble in a level moves to check if a surface is flat.
  • Your provider might put the scoliometer at a few different places along your spine to see if there are different degrees of curvature along its length.

How do I prepare for a scoliosis exam?

There’s nothing you need to do to prepare for a scoliosis exam. Your provider can perform one during a regular office visit.


What should I expect after a scoliosis exam?

You might need a spine X-ray after your provider checks your spine with a scoliometer. This will confirm the curve in your spine and will let your provider see a more complete picture of any changes to your spine or its vertebrae (the plural form of vertebra — the bones that form your spine).

A spine X-ray will also let your provider check for spinal fractures or other conditions that could change the shape of your spine.

Your provider will tell you how often they need to see you to monitor any changes in your spine.

Results and Follow-Up

What type of results will I get after a scoliometer reading?

A scoliometer measures the curve of your spine in degrees. A reading of 0 degrees is a natural curve that shows no sign of scoliosis.

Anything more than a 10-degree curve means you have scoliosis. You’ll probably need follow-up scoliometer readings to make sure it doesn’t get more severe over time.

Scoliometer vs. Cobb angle

A scoliometer measurement is sometimes referred to as Cobb angle — the measurement your provider will use to diagnose and track scoliosis. They’re not different kinds of tests or measurements, and your provider might use them interchangeably.

The Cobb angle is measured in degrees that track how far your spine has moved out of its natural alignment. People with scoliosis have a Cobb angle of more than 10 degrees.

You’re more likely to need treatment for scoliosis (like wearing a back brace) if you have a higher Cobb angle. Your provider will tell you if you need treatment and what to expect.


When should I call my doctor?

Visit your provider if you notice any changes in your posture or if your child’s posture changes so much that you can tell it’s different from what it usually is.

Talk to your provider about how often you need follow-up visits if you’ve been diagnosed with scoliosis. Most people with scoliosis need their spines checked every four to six months.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

It’s always concerning to think something is wrong with your spine. But most people with scoliosis don’t need treatment. If your provider finds a curve in your spine after measuring it with a scoliometer, you’ll probably need follow-up appointments every few months to make sure it doesn’t get more severe over time. If your child has scoliosis, they might grow out of it as they develop.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any changes in your back or spine or if notice that your child has uneven hips or shoulders.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 09/27/2022.

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