When Your Child’s Spine is Out of Line

Is it the teenage slouch, or is something askew with your child’s spine?

WRITTEN BY Stephanie Sturdy

Adolescents are notorious for slumping through their days, but in some teens, that slouched posture may be the result of more than just moodiness. Scoliosis, a common condition that creates a sideways bend in the spine, affects roughly three million Americans annually. “This ‘S’ shape is created when a curve in the spine develops in one area, causing an opposite curve to occur in another,” explains Dr. Byron Bailey, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated neurosurgeon. Scoliosis most often develops in adults due to age-related wear and tear, but in kids, the condition is primarily classified as idiopathic, meaning the underlying cause is unknown.

 While only two to three percent of children are diagnosed with scoliosis, the vast majority of these, nearly 80 percent, are between the ages of 10 and 18. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) tends to happen during growth spurts, when the spine is still fairly flexible. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons also reports that girls over the age of 10 are diagnosed with AIS 10 times more often than boys. 

 Doctors monitor for signs of scoliosis at well visits throughout childhood, performing a physical exam called an Adams Forward Bend Test beginning around age 10. If this or other observations signal a problem, X-rays in a scoliosis series may be prescribed. These X-rays have the capability to capture the entire spine from the front, back and side, creating a full picture of the child’s backbone, explains Dr. Bailey.

 The severity of the curve in an AIS diagnosis informs the treatment plan. Mild scoliosis will be kept under close watch, while more progressive cases may be treated with back braces or even surgery. Generally, scoliosis isn’t painful, but if left to progress, the condition can have long-term implications for other parts of the body. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to ensuring the child can engage in normal physical activity as they grow.

Ahead of the Curve

Your child isn’t in pain, but something just doesn’t sit right. Ask your child’s doctor to take a closer look if you notice that:

  1. One shoulder appears to rest higher than the other
  2. The ribs are more pronounced on one side of the body
  3. One shoulder blade protrudes more than the other
  4. One hip sits higher than the other, causing an uneven waistline

Photographs by (boy) Albina Gavrilovic; (X-Ray) Vadim Balantcev