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How to Do a Scoliosis Self-Check

Published June 21, 2018
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Jerry Nichols, MD

Scoliosis affects more than 7 million Americans according to the National Scoliosis Foundation. Different types of scoliosis affect people of all ages, though the majority of diagnoses happen between the ages of 10 and 15. When it comes to treating scoliosis, detecting this spinal deformity early for yourself and your children can be crucial.

Scoliosis and the Different Types

Before screening yourself or another for scoliosis, it is important to know the different types of scoliosis your case may be and how it was caused. The most commonly diagnosed scoliosis subtype is idiopathic scoliosis which has no known cause. However, the other main types of scoliosis include functional, neuromuscular and degenerative.

Functional scoliosis is brought on by other existing issues elsewhere in the body, like having muscle spasms or one leg being shorter than the other.

Neuromuscular scoliosis is caused by neurologic and/or muscular disorders and requires the most attention by a doctor because of its severity. With this condition, the nerves and muscles are unable to support and control the spine and trunk. This type of scoliosis can stem from a brain or spinal cord disorder, or from other types of neurologic conditions such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy.

Degenerative scoliosis affects older adults after years of the normal wear and tear of the vertebral discs in the back. The greatest contributor to this type of scoliosis is the vertebral fractures which causes parts of the vertebrae to collapse. As the discs collapse and lose height over time, the change of their shape leads to an abnormal curve of the spine.

Check for Scoliosis Using the Forward Bend Test

Depending on the state you live in, you may remember doing a simple scoliosis screening in the nurse’s office at school. Schools use the Adam’s Forward Bend Test for scoliosis screenings which can also be used at home to identify spine abnormalities. Bending forward at the waist with your feet together shows asymmetry or unevenness in the back. With someone observing from behind, this asymmetry in the back that can usually be found in the rib cage or hips and may be a sign that you have scoliosis.

Other Signs

Other ways to check yourself for scoliosis include looking for other asymmetrical appearances in your body posture. These appearances could be un-even shoulders or hips, your head being off-center or not in line with your pelvis, or a shift of one side of the spine. Even smaller asymmetrical appearances, like the alignment or tilt in your eye line as well as your ears, can also be a scoliosis warning sign.

If these subtle signs are hard to identify in yourself, sometimes observing the way your clothing fits or even the way you walk could show red flags for scoliosis. After getting dressed in the morning, look in the mirror for things like uneven pant legs or arm sleeves. Meanwhile, some indications of scoliosis to pay attention to while walking include having a slight limp or body tilt.

Now What?

If you noticed any of these warning signs after screening yourself or your child, always consult a doctor first for a diagnosis. Depending on the severity of the curve, your age, and gender, there are typically three different treatment options for scoliosis. 

If there is only a slight curve to the spine found in a child that is still growing, your doctor will continue to observe and examine the curvature every couple of months. For cases that are more moderate, a custom brace may be used to prevent progression of the spine curvature. These braces are made specifically for each patient and are usually worn everyday for a number of hours prescribed by your doctor.

For those who have a more serious case of scoliosis that continues to worsen or cannot be treated with a brace, the last treatment option is surgery. The most common procedure is spinal fusion, where two or more vertebrae are permanently fused together in order to keep the spine straight. For more stability, surgeon’s may recommend placing metal rods or other devices to maintain a straight spine.

However, it is important to understand that most cases of scoliosis do not require aggressive treatment options like bracing and surgery. With observation and periodic visits to your physician, you can effectively manage your scoliosis. If you need additional guidance and support, our free Back Wellness Coaches are here to support you along your wellness journey.  

Updated: December 7, 2019

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