Could your child have scoliosis? 5 things parents should keep in mind

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dr. John Lubicky

Does your child have a spinal curve in the shape of an S or C or other posture problems? If so, it could be an abnormal curvature of the spine called scoliosis that usually begins around puberty. Make sure your child is seeing a doctor regularly, and scoliosis can be diagnosed and monitored early. WVU Medicine Children’s pediatric orthopaedic surgeon John Lubicky, MD, highlights what you need to know about this spinal condition, treatment, and diagnosis.

1. Symptoms are different for each child.
The symptoms of scoliosis are unique to each individual child. Some children may not have any symptoms while others have more visible signs including:

  • The shoulders may be uneven.
  • The head doesn't look centered with the rest of his body.
  • One hip looks higher than the other or sticks out.
  • The ribs appear pushed out.
  • In a standing position, the arms don't hang down straight next to the body.
  • Bending forward, two sides of the back are different heights.

2. Girls are more likely to develop scoliosis than boys.
The cause of scoliosis is unknown, and research shows that girls are at a higher risk of developing more severe spinal curves that worsen over time. If left untreated, scoliosis may result in moderate to severe pain in various parts of the body, including the back, hips, legs, or buttocks. The Scoliosis Research Society recommends that girls be screened twice at 10 and 12 years of age and boys once at 12 or 13 years of age. Screening for scoliosis typically involves examining the back and looking for asymmetry in shoulders or hips or other areas of concern.

3. Some children with scoliosis may not need treatment.
The good news is that small spinal curves may not worsen or cause any long-term health risks. So if your child is mildly affected by scoliosis, treatment isn’t always necessary. A slight curve of 25 degrees or less will need to be observed by a WVU Medicine provider, but specific treatment may not be needed unless the curve gets larger. If your child’s spine curves anywhere from 25 to 45 degrees and is still growing, scoliosis can be treated by wearing a brace to prevent the condition from getting worse. If the curve goes beyond 50 degrees, surgery is typically needed.

4. WVU Medicine Children’s offers safe, convenient imaging tests.
Pediatric patients with scoliosis are now undergoing lower-dose imaging (x-rays) at WVU Medicine Children’s thanks to the EOS imaging system, which produces an image of a spine with nine times less radiation than a regular x-ray. It takes spine x-rays in two planes – looking from the back to front, and from the side simultaneously. The patient is standing or sitting while these images are being taken. With the EOS system, children also benefit from not having to undergo a CT scan for physicians to get the 3D images they need.

5. Braces and surgical treatment have advanced greatly.
Bracing for scoliosis can keep your child’s spinal curve from becoming large enough to require surgery. The brace controls the curve while your child grows, and it must be worn as close to 23 hours a day as possible. Surgery may be recommended if the spinal curve measures 50 degrees or more as bracing cannot control curves that large. Pediatric orthopaedic surgeons at WVU Medicine Children’s have extensive experience in the treatment of spinal deformities, like scoliosis, and use various techniques, including "growth friendly" surgery as well as standard spinal fusion. These procedures reduce the time patients spend in the hospital, and it is not necessary to wear a cast or brace after surgery.

Are you concerned your child might have scoliosis? Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE