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Summer Heat May Reveal Signs of Scoliosis

Doctor discussing scoliosis with a male patient who is sitting on exam table

Orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Roberto meets with Hunter about treatment for his scoliosis.

Pediatric spine surgeons at Shriners Children's are encouraging parents to be spine aware during National Scoliosis Awareness Month.

June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month, and the medical staff at Shriners Children’s are reminding parents about the importance of scoliosis screenings in children and adolescents. Summer brings summer clothing options, which makes for a great opportunity to check children for scoliosis. Now is the time for parents to be spine aware.

“Summertime is when many parents first spot signs of scoliosis in their growing adolescent’s spine,” said Rolando Roberto, M.D., orthopedic spine surgeon at Shriners Children’s Northern California. “Tank tops and bathing suits can reveal physical differences in the height of children’s shoulder blades, uneven hips or pushed out ribs. This is the time for parents to be spine aware and know the signs and symptoms. Undiagnosed scoliosis will progress very quickly, so it’s important to build spine checks into your parenting routine and schedule frequent visits with your pediatrician to assure good spine health.”

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is one of the more common spinal disorders in which the vertebrae rotate, causing an abnormal curve of the spine. Curves are often S-shaped or C-shaped. The most common type is idiopathic scoliosis, a type of scoliosis where the cause is unknown, but is thought to be genetic. Scoliosis can occur in otherwise perfectly healthy children.

How do you screen for scoliosis?

Scoliosis may appear at any time during the main growth years for children (years 10 to 12), which is the growth spurt period that happens just before puberty. It is essential that a child's spine be checked regularly until their growth is complete. A curvature may progress considerably during the rapid teenage growth spurt years if scoliosis goes undiagnosed.

Scoliosis will often present with the following symptoms:

  • One shoulder blade higher than the other
  • The appearance that the head is not centered with the rest of the body
  • Uneven hips or one hip sticking out more than the other
  • Pushed out ribs
  • Difficulty breathing due to a reduced available area for lung expansion
  • Back pain and discomfort
  • When bending forward, the appearance that the two sides of the back are different heights

Parents are encouraged to perform preliminary screenings at home by using Shriners Children’s SpineScreen app. Developed by orthopedic specialists at Shriners Children’s, this smartphone app gives parents a quick and easy way to regularly monitor their child’s spine. Simply move the smartphone along the child’s spine and the SpineScreen will help detect any abnormal curves. If an abnormality is noticed, the app will provide instructions on how to contact your nearest Shriners Children's location. Make home scoliosis screenings a regular occurrence throughout the year by downloading the app through Google Play or the App Store.

How can scoliosis be treated?

Early detection makes an incredible impact on the success rate of correcting a curvature of the spine and gives providers the opportunity to explore nonsurgical treatment options. Our care team will partner and make decisions with you create the best possible outcomes for your child and their idiopathic scoliosis care journey. There are currently no medications to treat scoliosis, nor can its onset be prevented. The treatment for scoliosis varies with each individual patient and is based on the patient’s age, future growth potential, and the severity and location of the curve.

June is the nationally designated month to spread awareness about scoliosis, but at Shriners Children’s, scoliosis education never comes to an end. If you have concerns or believe your child may have scoliosis, request an appointment or call 800-237-5055.

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