Remember in grade school, how, one day, the school nurse lined you and all your classmates up and had you bend over and hang there while she stared at you? Why would the nurse do this to you and all your friends? Was it only another horrible, embarrassing ritual dreamed up by grownups to terrorize you?

It may sound like a youngster’s worst nightmare, but it was really just your “scoliosis screening.” The nurse was looking for obvious signs that there was some irregular curvature in the way the bones running from your head to your tailbone lined up. She was looking for scoliosis, which is an abnormal twisting curvature of the 24 bones, called vertebrae, which make up the spinal column.

Scoliosis is a condition that affects 10% of our youth. Approximately one million children (a big majority are girls) in the United States have scoliosis. Many have a small degree of scoliosis which, for the nurse, may not even be noticeable. The nurse was mainly looking for which group that has a 25-degree or greater abnormal curvature. However, scoliosis of all degrees, if left uncorrected, can contribute to disorders of the nervous system, including recurring headaches, nervousness, irritability, attention deficit syndrome (ADS), leg and back pains, etc., and in advanced cases, heart and breathing problems.

Scoliosis does not refer to the curves you see in the spine when you look at someone from the side. Normal, healthy spinal curves exist and are seen from this viewpoint. A healthy spine bows slightly forward at the neck, then, backwards from the shoulders down. The spine should have another healthy forward curve at about the waistline.

Unlike the sideview, when you look at the way the spinal bones stack up from a straight-on view, they should be pretty much straight up and down and equally balanced on both sides from the skull to the pelvis.

Michael L. Richardson, MD, from the Department of Radiology at the University of Washington, in his book Scoliosis, states that though there is not one cause of scoliosis, it often starts to develop after some kind of accident or is associated with the way the nerves control the muscles which can become chronically spastic. He warns that scoliosis causes the developing spinal bones to grow misshapen. Dr. Richardson recommends that grade school children be screened every six to nine months and points out that, in 60% of children diagnosed before puberty, the deformity is progressive, meaning it will get worse if not treated.

One simple way to check for signs of scoliosis is to look at someone straight on and check to see if one shoulder is higher than the other. If the opposite hip to the raised shoulder is high, this may indicate a damaging, abnormal curvature. A child might also “list” to one side and have trouble with “funny fitting” clothes and crooked hemlines. The school nurse’s test is also good. However, the difference between the school nurse and our office is we are able to do something about it. Call now.

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