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Diagnosis of scoliosis

Diagnosing scoliosis will likely involve some combination of visual/physical examination and X-ray imaging to assess the spine’s curvature.

The “forward bend test” is often administered during children’s physical exams. When your child bends forward and lets their arms hang down, your doctor will check to see whether the rib cage, pelvis, and shoulder bones are level. This assessment can be visual, or your doctor may use a tool called an inclinometer to measure the actual spinal curvature.

A back X-ray is also a common and highly effective diagnostic tool for scoliosis. The spine’s curvature is visible and easily measured through X-ray imaging. If you or your child have additional spinal or back injuries, your doctor may also use an MRI or other imaging tools, but this is rare.


The earlier treatment begins, the more likely that the spine’s curvature can be corrected. Treatment options depend on the size of the curvature and whether or not your child is finished growing. Small curves may not require treatment.

Your doctor at Dignity Health may recommend back bracing for more prominent curves. A back brace will not straighten the spine, but it can prevent the curve from getting worse.

Very large curves of 45 to 50 degrees or greater, or curves that continue to increase despite bracing, may require spinal fusion surgery. Spine surgery can help prevent complications, such as impaired lung function.

Additional details

Childhood scoliosis rarely leads to complications later in life, especially if the curvature is minor and addressed or monitored early.

For larger curves, surgery is typically the only method that reduces curvature. Surgery is usually very successful in straightening the spine and preventing further curvature for idiopathic scoliosis patients.

When children undergo spinal fusion or other spine surgeries to correct severe scoliosis, they can usually return to everyday activities within nine months of surgery. They may experience some permanent changes in the type of movement they can participate in.

Outcomes for neuromuscular, congenital, and adult-onset scoliosis vary more widely, depending on the underlying condition and severity.

Adult patients with scoliosis are often riskier candidates for surgery, so doctors may recommend managing scoliosis symptoms with pain medication and preventing further curvature through bracing and other nonsurgical treatment.

Dignity Health treats a wide range of orthopedic conditions, including scoliosis.

Our orthopedists can offer an effective solution for your scoliosis symptoms.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.