Understanding Spinal Screenings for Adolescents

Detecting and treating spinal conditions at the earliest possible stage increases the odds of a successful outcome. For this reason, adolescent screenings are mandated in most states to identify possible signs of progressive spine-related conditions like spinal stenosis. The purpose of such screenings is to start some type of non-surgical spine treatment, which often includes specific exercises or temporary bracing, at an early age to prevent serious problems later in life.

Family History and Physical Exam

Adolescent spinal screenings typically start with a review of family and medical histories since genetics can play a role in developing spine conditions. Once family history has been established, a physical exam takes place. For screenings taking place in schools, a nurse or similar medical professional looks for signs that indicate a possible spine issue, including unevenness in the back or one shoulder appearing higher than the other.

Scoliosis and Kyphosis

Scoliosis and kyphosis, both abnormal curvatures of the spine, are the conditions medical professionals often screen for in adolescent patients (ages 12 through 14). Adolescent spine screenings may also include testing for:

• Hypermobility
• General mobility
• Intersegmental mobility
• End-range spine pain

Advanced Adolescent Tests/Screenings

If a spinal abnormality is suspected, adolescents are usually referred to a board-certified physician or a spine specialist for more advanced tests and screenings. Advanced screenings may include the use of devices like a scoliometer (to measure/estimate the rotation of the spinal curve). The Risser sign (a measure of bone maturity) is sometimes used to identify skeletal age to determine the likelihood of a spinal curvature worsening with age.

A study on the reliability of adolescent spine screenings produced mixed results, with some tests offering good reliability and others not faring so well. Researchers suggest that test standardization and better training of individuals administering the tests could improve the reliability of adolescent screenings.

If conservative methods have been exhausted and spine problems persist, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a professional spine surgeon in Beverly Hills. To learn more or to request a consultation, call The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration at (310) 828-7757.