How is pediatric and adolescent scoliosis diagnosed?

If you or a caregiver or teacher thinks your child may have scoliosis, contact your doctor as soon as possible. The doctor should also be screening for scoliosis on a regular basis and may be the first to suspect the condition.

An evaluation for scoliosis has several steps:

  • Your doctor will usually begin with a thorough history to determine if there is a family history of scoliosis. The history will also be used to screen for birth defects or trauma that may explain the curvature of the spine.
  • The doctor will then conduct a physical examination of your child's back, chest, pelvis, legs, feet and skin. The doctor will be looking to see if the child’s shoulders are level, whether the head is centered and whether opposite sides of the body look level.
  • The doctor will then ask the child to bend forward so that the back muscles can be examined, and to see if one side of the rib cage is higher than the other.
  • While checking the limbs, the doctor will be evaluating whether the limbs are the same length. He or she will also check for abdominal muscle strain, which could cause spinal curvature.
  • After a physical examination, the doctor may order an X-ray of the spine to confirm a diagnosis of scoliosis. The X-ray will be taken with your child standing so that the entire spine can be seen. The doctor will then measure the curves of the spine as shown on the X-ray. Curves that are greater than 25 degrees may require treatment.

If your doctor determines that your child has scoliosis, he or she will refer you to an orthopaedic spine specialist for treatment.

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