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Diagnosis of Scoliosis
by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Scoliosis is often initially noticed during a routine school screening or during an annual physical exam. Once scoliosis has been noted, a baseline study to measure the degree of curvature will be performed. Monitoring will be performed at regular intervals in order to keep track of the progression of scoliosis and to provide treatment if the curvature becomes more severe.
Tests may include:
Forward bend test —With feet and knees together, the child is asked to bend forward with arms dangling. The screening person will stand first behind the child and then in front to check for any visible curvature, or any uneven appearance in the rib cage, hipbones, or shoulder blades.
Inclinometer or scoliometer —This device is used to measure the actual degree of curvature. The child will be asked to stand with feet and knees together, and bend forward until the examiner can see a curvature in the upper spine. The inclinometer is then placed on the back, and a measurement is taken. Another measurement is taken when the patient has leaned over further, and the area of curvature is visible in the lower spine.
Back x-rays —This is the most accurate way to diagnose and to monitor the progression of scoliosis. The x-ray can identify the presence of scoliosis, and the examiner can use a technique (Cobb method) to calculate the degree of curvature.
MRI scan —MRI scans can be used to diagnose and monitor the progression of scoliosis, but they are very expensive and no more helpful than x-rays. MRI exams are usually reserved for those who are suspected of having some other spinal condition.
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Congenital scoliosis and kyphosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated January 19, 2016. Accessed May 16, 2017.
Idiopathic scoliosis in children and adolescents. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated March 2015. Accessed May 16, 2017.
Infantile and juvenile idiopathic scoliosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated July 13, 2016. Accessed May 16, 2017.
Questions and answers about scoliosis in children and adolescents. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Scoliosis/default.asp. Updated December 2015. Accessed May 16, 2017.
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What is scoliosis? Fast facts: An easy-to-read series of publications for the public. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Scoliosis/scoliosis_ff.asp. Updated November 2014. Accessed May 16, 2017.
Last reviewed May 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 12/20/2014
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