“Your child has scoliosis.” Many parents fear hearing these words after a routine school exam or pediatrician’s appointment, and they have a good reason for feeling that way. Scoliosis has a reputation as being a child’s disease. Indeed, the National Scoliosis Foundation notes that approximately 30,000 children will find themselves fitted for a scoliosis brace each year.
Scoliosis may affect more than just the young. In The New York Times, Jane E. Brody cited a study showing that nearly two-thirds of volunteers at Maimonides Medical Center met medical guidelines for scoliosis diagnosis. U.S. News and World Report has urged aging adults to visit a specialist, stating that “40 to 60% of adults will develop degenerative scoliosis by age 65.”
Many people however would prefer to start with a self-scoliosis screening prior to visiting a physician. Fortunately, conducting a self-examination for scoliosis is easier than you might imagine. This article will provide some basic facts about scoliosis, discuss how to check for scoliosis in adults and kids at home, and talk about what you should do after performing a self-examination.
What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is defined as any sideways curvature of the spine of more than 10 degrees when examined from a back-on view. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the condition falls into three broad categories in children: idiopathic (without a known cause), congenital (present at birth), and neuromuscular (arising from a concomitant condition affecting the nerves and/or muscles). In adults however, scoliosis is typically related to degeneration of the intervertebral discs which occurs as we age; when a disc degenerates more to the left or right side, a scoliosis may develop.
In many cases, scoliosis doesn’t and won’t pose a great health risk. Most children diagnosed with scoliosis can lead more or less ordinary lives, including participating in sports. However, this isn’t always true. Untreated moderate or severe scoliosis can cause back pain, and in some cases may compress internal organs or even damage the spinal column.
Folk “truths” abound about scoliosis. Some maintain that curves may correct over time. While this can happen with smaller curves, scoliosis generally doesn’t spontaneously resolve. Others state that carrying overloaded bags or poor posture may lead to scoliosis. This is mistaking a symptom for a cause. Scoliosis may lead to posture problems rather than vice versa. Additionally, carrying weighty items has no bearing on the development of scoliosis. One thing that is certain: scoliosis is a condition that you can’t afford to ignore.
Can you examine yourself for scoliosis?
The most definitive scoliosis tests are tests that cannot be performed outside of a doctor’s office. X-rays will definitively show the extent of curvature of a patient’s spine. Additionally, a physician may perform an MRI to determine if there is an underlying cause such as trauma or a tumor contributing to the development of scoliosis.
Fortunately, you don’t have to start with these more expensive tests. If you’re wondering how to check for scoliosis in a child or adult, there are scoliosis screening techniques you can easily perform at home. However, scoliosis home screening can lead to false positives, and is not a replacement for professional tests. If you believe an examination may indicate that you or a loved one has scoliosis, your next step should involve a visit to a doctor.
Different at-home self-examinations
A common at-home self-examination test is Adam’s forward bend test. It requires two people, the patient and an observer, as well as a private place to conduct it. The test requires the patient to:
- Start by removing his or her shirt.
- The patient then brings feet together, reaches their arms straight forward with the palms together, and bends at the waist until his or her back is a flat plane, allowing arms to hang while knees remain straight.
- The observer examines the patient from behind, looking for an uneven lower back, uneven upper back, or uneven hips.
To see an example of the Adam’s forward bend test in action, view the below video.
Another kind of examination is the self-posture check. This kind of posture examination can involve a third party or you can conduct it yourself. (However, an observer can often catch things that you yourself might miss.) Stand straight just as you would naturally, and look at yourself in the mirror from the front and from both sides. Does your body remain symmetrical? Is one hip higher than another? What about your shoulders and arms? Is your back rounded? Examine your face, and imagine a horizontal line drawn from one eye to another. Does it appear canted? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to undergo further testing.
One final test you can conduct involves inspecting your clothing. If you have scoliosis and the condition has begun to progress, you may notice differences in the way items hang on your frame. Hemlines may no longer appear even, and pants legs or shirt sleeves could seem to have lengthened or shrunk. These changes may signal that your body is experiencing shifts that aren’t otherwise evident.
Why early detection is important
As alluded to above, scoliosis can lead to many negative health outcomes if left untreated for an extended period. Chronic pain, permanent disfigurement, internal-organ damage may occur. Additionally, failing to quickly identify and treat scoliosis may require more invasive interventions later on. Early detection allows patients to rely on scoliosis treatments such as bracing and specialized scoliosis exercises. But more advanced cases may require surgery.
Next steps after performing exam on self
If you’ve conducted one or several of these at-home examinations and believe you’ve seen some variation in your spine or that of a loved one, you may find yourself wondering what you should do next. Your first step should be to understand some of the limitations of these self exams, especially when it comes to a condition such as scoliosis. For instance, some variability in spinal curvature is to be expected, and you can only call such curvature “scoliosis” when it presents at a 10-degree-or-greater angle on X-rays. Also, during a visual examination, it’s easy to think you see a curve when one isn’t there — or to accidentally ignore evidence of scoliosis.
Should you remain concerned about the possibility of scoliosis, call The Spine Center at (847) 698-9330 and schedule an appointment. Our fellowship-trained physicians are happy to discuss any potential issues with you and to perform any necessary diagnostic-imaging tests. Our goal is to maximize your pain-free functioning.