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Scoliosis Research Society
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Diagnosing Scoliosis

My back hurts—could it be scoliosis?

More than half of all adolescents complain of back pain—yet only about 4 in 100 adolescents have scoliosis. Often, back pain kids experience is from growing pains or muscular strains that typically get better with time, stretching, and anti-inflammatory medications (like ibuprofen) or acetaminophen.

If your pain continues for months, visit your doctor. Chances are, even if growth isn’t the cause of your back pain, it isn’t likely that scoliosis is causing it either. Scoliosis usually does not cause pain, even if it is serious enough to require brace wear.

What are the symptoms of scoliosis?

  • Crooked shoulders—one is higher than the other
  • Your head does not seem center or it is slightly tilted to one side
  • One of your shoulder blades seems to “stick out” more than the other
  • You lean to one side
  • One of your legs seems longer than the other
  • One of your hips “juts out” more than the other
  • Your rib cage seems uneven or crooked—one side “sticks out” more than the other or you have a “rib hump” on one side of your back when you lean over

How does a doctor diagnose scoliosis?

  • Physical observation. Your doctor will observe you in different positions (standing, bending over, walking) and from many perspectives.
  • Scoliometer. The scoliometer will be placed over the area of possible scoliosis to give the doctor a "reading"—a rough estimate of your spine’s curvature.
  • X-rays. Used after a physical exam, if your doctor thinks you have scoliosis. Includes a standing X-ray of your entire spine looking both from the back and the side. You should wear a lead shield to protect your internal organs during the X-ray. Your X-rays will be evaluated and any curves in your spine will be measured in degrees using the Cobb method. A curve greater than 10º is considered scoliosis, but treatment usually isn’t necessary unless/until the curve reaches 25º.