Growing up, many of us parents can remember required school scoliosis checks. What’s important to know nowadays about scoliosis? What are your child’s options if they have scoliosis? Dr. Mark Lee, Division Head of Orthopedics at Connecticut Children’s, and Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, Orthopedic Surgeon, has the answers.

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1. What exactly is scoliosis, and how can I explain it to my child?

Scoliosis is a type of spinal deformity that, most of the time, has no known cause. So instead of the spine being straight up and down, it’s curved from side to side like the letter “S.”  Some kids have mild scoliosis while others have cases that are more serious. Sometimes, scoliosis can cause pain and trouble breathing, and other times, it’s just something to keep an eye on. 

2. Will schools do a scoliosis check for my child?

Yes. The Connecticut State Department of Education requires this. Your child’s school nurse will screen:

  • Females in 5th and in 7th grade, and;
  • Males in 8th grade.

You can explain to your child that the nurse will ask them to bend down at the waist and check the spine and ribs to make sure everything looks “in place.” The screening is simple, doesn’t hurt and only takes a minute or two at most.

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Some kids have mild scoliosis while others have cases that are more serious. Sometimes, scoliosis can cause pain and trouble breathing, and other times, it’s just something to keep an eye on.

Mark C. Lee, MD,
Division Head, Orthopedics, Connecticut Children's

3. What do I do after my child’s scoliosis screening, if anything?

If the nurse decides your child needs to see a doctor for further testing, they will let you know. You can reach out to Connecticut Children’s Division of Orthopedics Spine Program, which treats the most simple and most complex spinal deformities and conditions. You and your child can expect us to:

  • Look at their spine up close with the EOS X-ray machine. We’re the only health system in the state to offer this machine which uses much less radiation—about two to three times less than standard X-ray machines.
  • Keep your child’s overall well being top of mind. In the long-run, the EOS X-ray machine is better for your child’s health if they need regular screenings multiple times a year—and better for your peace of mind if you’re nervous about radiation exposure.

Have a conversation together to lay out treatment options and recommendations. Like you, our goal is a healthy spine—and a healthy spine means a comfortable, active child!

4. What are my child’s treatment options for scoliosis?

That depends on what type of scoliosis your child has, and how severe it is.  Your Connecticut Children’s spinal expert may recommend:

  • A brace—to help the “S” curve from getting worse.
  • Physical therapy exercises—we’ll help you get in touch with Connecticut Children’s Physical Therapy team who will customize exercises just for your child and their lifestyle.
  • Spinal fusion surgery, if needed—during surgery, our team will implant metal rods and screws that straighten the spine and add bone graft to fuse the spine together. Precision is the name of the game—we use only the most advanced 3D imaging like the Ziehm C-Arm machine so we can see exactly where each rod and screw needs to be positioned in order to maximize correction of the scoliosis. In children younger than 10, the surgeon may use special, adjustable rods called MAGEC rods that grow with your child.

In just a couple of days, they can go home and recover as quickly as possible and head back to school a few weeks later.

>Related: Explaining Anesthesia to Younger Kids

What is Scoliosis?

5. What happens if my child’s scoliosis isn’t treated?

That depends. Your doctor may tell you that watchful waiting is the best approach for now if it’s not that serious. If it’s more serious, lung and heart problems could develop and worsen over time, and your child could develop a noticeable humped back.

Always reach out to your child’s school with questions about scoliosis screening. In many cases, detection is prevention!

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