Detecting scoliosis in its early stages is important if you want to halt its progression and minimise the severity of the symptoms. This raises the question: should we be screening for scoliosis in schools?
School screenings aim to detect the minor deformities that often go unnoticed by general practitioners but which can point to a possible curvature of the spine.
Family doctors don't tend to carry out routine checks for scoliosis, so symptoms are often left untreated until the curvature becomes more prominent or the patient starts to experience pain - an outcome that could potentially have been avoided with early detection. Unfortunately, if the patient's spinal curve is allowed to develop to 40 degrees (or more), treatment options become very limited.
Why Should We Screen in Schools?
It's estimated that 3 or 4 children out of every 1,000 in the UK need to be treated for scoliosis - and with over 8.7 million pupils in schools across the UK as of 2018, you can imagine how prevalent this condition really is. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis tends to develop while children are aged between 10 and 15, so screening at this time could well help to reduce the number of adults suffering with severe scoliosis in this country.
If it's caught early, exercise-based therapies like our ScolioGold treatment programme can be used to prevent scoliosis from getting worse (even helping some patients to avoid invasive spinal surgery).
Interestingly, in the past, the UK did screen for scoliosis in schools. This was a fairly common practice up until the 1990s, but it was eventually abandoned.
Researchers Muhammad Ali Fazal and Michael Edgar from the University College Hospital and the London Clinic conducted a study called The Detection of Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis and were able to ascertain that:
"In the year 2000, only 8% of patients with scoliosis had been identified by school screenings compared to 32% in 1985. Similarly, the number of patients presenting with curves over 40° increased to 70%, showing that untrained eyes are only capable of identifying spinal deformities at a later stage."
These findings highlight the important role school screenings can play in preventing debilitating cases of scoliosis. So why aren't we employing a national scoliosis screening strategy now?
Concerns About Screening
There have been a number of petitions to bring scoliosis screenings back to UK schools. Unfortunately, none have yet been successful.
The government's response to such petitions has been largely influenced by the advice offered by the UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) who, after a three-month consultation, decided that screenings for scoliosis should not be offered. There were several reasons for this decision:
- Firstly, the UK NSC found that there was no standardised or agreed cut-off for the Adams forward bending test where doctors agreed that the child needed treatment. This meant that some children would go on to have further scoliosis tests even though they'd likely have gotten better on their own, while others would miss out on further tests and treatments even as their curvature became worse over time.
- Secondly, the UK NSC expressed a concern that school children might be exposed to harmful x-rays unnecessarily if the Adams forward bending test was not capable of determining the severity of the child's condition.
- Thirdly (as with everything) cost played a role in the final decision. The UK NSC expressed concern that the likelihood of false-positive diagnosis in relation to the cost of nationwide screening was not justifiable.
These recommendations against school screenings are based largely on outdated and limited data. In our opinion, based on the current data we have, it's reasonable to recommend that children and in particular adolescents participate in school screenings where both the Adams forward bending test and scoliometry are used.
Does My Child Have Scoliosis? What Should I Do?
If you think your child has scoliosis, or if your doctor has confirmed that your child has a curved spine, we can help you test and treat your child's scoliosis.
First of all, if you'd like to check your child for scoliosis at home, you can use the Adams forward bending test to check the alignment of your child's spine. We have a video showing you exactly what to do - you can watch it below.
Remember, no one's body is perfectly straight and symmetrical, but if you do notice an unevenness that's out of the ordinary, you should get in touch with your GP right away.
If your child is suffering from scoliosis, there are things you can do to help your child cope with scoliosis while they're at school. You can read our helpful tips by clicking the button below.
Coping with Scoliosis in School >
We've helped hundreds of school children with scoliosis to improve their curved spines. Give us a call on 0207 488 4428 if you'd like to speak to one of our therapists about your child's condition and potential treatment options.