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Diagnosing & treating scoliosis in children

scoliosis boyChildren with mild scoliosis often go undiagnosed until they hit a growth spurt during puberty. As they grow rapidly, some signs will become more obvious. You may notice:

Scoliosis in children usually isn't painful.

What should I do if I think my child has scoliosis?

If you think your child has scoliosis, it is important to take them to see their GP.

The GP will examine their spine, checking where and how pronounced the curve is. They will also check for anything that may cause a problem with their spine, such as differences in the length of their hips, nervous system problems, or other physical issues.

Unless there are signs the curve is likely to get worse, your child is unlikely to need an X-ray. Your GP will monitor your child to make sure the curve is not getting worse.

How is scoliosis in children treated?

Scoliosis doesn't usually get better without treatment, but if it's mild it usually doesn't need to be treated and is seldom a sign of anything serious. Surgery helps to straighten a child's spine, but it also makes it stiff. This is why children with mild scoliosis aren't usually operated on.

When deciding if your child needs treatment, your doctor will consider where the curve in their spine is, how bad it is, your child's age, and how many years of growing they have left. Once they are fully grown it's unlikely the curve will get much worse.

If your child has mild scoliosis your doctor is likely to keep monitoring them and may refer them for physiotherapy. By strengthening their back muscles and improving their posture, physiotherapy can sometimes help if poor posture is adding to their discomfort. If your doctor thinks physiotherapy may help your child, it's best to start as soon as possible.

If your child's scoliosis is more severe, your GP may refer them to an orthopaedic surgeon. For very pronounced curves, or if there is a risk the curve will start affecting the way your child's lungs work, the surgeon is likely to recommend an operation called a spinal fusion.

Spinal fusion straightens the curve out and fuses the affected vertebrae together, using metal rods that are held in place with screws and bone grafts. As the bone grafts heal, the affected vertebrae fuse into a single, solid bone and stop growing.

Sometimes a child who still has a lot of growing to do will have rods inserted that don't cause fusion. The rods may need to be changed as the child grows.

When should I seek further treatment?

You should go back to your GP if:

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by orthopaedic surgeon, Canterbury DHB. Page created July 2017.

Sources

Page reference: 382061

Review key: HISCO-381984