Life

Ask the Expert: Could my child have scoliosis?

Caroline Freedman, author of The Scoliosis Handbook, explains how to spot the signs of curvature of the spine in children, and how it's treated

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, where it twists and curves to the right or left side or both
Lisa Salmon

Q: MY 12-YEAR-old daughter slouches a lot and sometimes says her back hurts, and my friend says I should get her checked for scoliosis. What is this, and is it serious?

A: Personal trainer Caroline Freedman, author of The Scoliosis Handbook, was diagnosed with scoliosis herself at the age of 15 and now one of her children has the condition.

She says: "I really understand your concern for your daughter. Children do slouch, especially over their digital devices and it's difficult to detect whether this is just down to bad posture or if there's something very wrong with their backs.

"Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, where it twists and curves to the right or left side or both, forming an 'S' shape. It can also affect the position of the ribs, creating a hump on one side. If the spine develops a major curve this can cause pain, while also putting pressure on the heart, lungs and other organs.

"Scoliosis affects three to four children in every thousand from the ages of 10-15 onwards, of which 80 per cent are girls. If the scoliosis is severe the condition is serious and not only physical but can have an enormous effect on their mental health.

"Mostly, scoliosis is of unknown cause, although some cases occur before birth and in very young people. Adults can also develop a curve. As you're clearly feeling anxious after your friend's observation of your daughter's spine, I definitely suggest you take your daughter to see a GP. He may then refer her to a specialist scoliosis consultant. Diagnosis would include an examination, X-ray, and/or a CT scan and MRI.

"Treatment for scoliosis includes wearing a spinal brace to help straighten the spine – which can work, depending on the stage of the curvature – and in severe cases, spinal fusion surgery. Exercise, physiotherapy and massage can also alleviate pain before and after surgery.

"A simple way for you to check for scoliosis is to get your daughter to bend forward and touch her toes. You'll be able to see if her back is symmetrical or if one side looks more raised than the other.

"Look to see if one shoulder or hip is sticking out or if her waist is more pronounced on one side. Do her T-shirts or sweaters look wonky, is she complaining of any pain, or does she describe a pulling sensation over one side of her ribs on her back?

"Please remember most cases are mild and don't need any intervention but it's important to watch children's spines as they grow."

:: The Scoliosis Handbook is published by Hammersmith Books, £15.99

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