Scoliosis screening

A doctor may test a young person for scoliosis during a routine physical exam. In schools, screening may be provided annually for students between the ages of 10 and 14 (grades 5 through 9). The exam takes about 30 seconds and may be performed by a school nurse or physical education teacher.

  • The examiner first views the child from behind, looking for uneven shoulders, hips, or waistline or for shoulder blades that stick out or are uneven.
  • The child then bends forward from the waist, with the arms hanging down loosely and the palms touching (forward-bending test). The examiner looks for any unevenness, such as one side of the rib cage that is higher than the other. The examiner may also view the child from the side to detect a hump on the upper back (kyphosis).
  • Also, the examiner may measure the angle of trunk rotation (ATR) with a device called a scoliometer.

Screening for scoliosis is recommended by some major health organizations, such as the Scoliosis Research Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics.1 But the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against routine screening for idiopathic scoliosis in older children and teens who do not have any symptoms.2 Idiopathic scoliosis means that the spinal curve develops for unknown reasons. This is the most common type of scoliosis and usually is first noticed in childhood.

For more information, see the topic Scoliosis.

Citations

  1. Richards BS, Vitale MG (2008). Screening for idiopathic scoliosis in adolescents: An information statement. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 90(1): 195–198.
  2. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2004). Screening for idiopathic scoliosis in adolescents: Recommendation statement. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Available online: http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/3rduspstf/scoliosis/scoliors.htm.

Last Updated: August 27, 2009

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

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