Scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, is a condition that afflicts between 6 million and 9 million Americans, including up to 10 percent of adolescents.
Often, it’s not noticed until it’s advanced.
But now parents can use a free app on their SmartPhones to determine whether their children suffer from the muskuloskeletal condition.
Developed by Shriners Hospitals for Children, the app works by simply placing the phone against the child’s spine, said Dr. J. Michael Wattenbarger, an orthopedic surgeon with Shriners in Greenville.
There, it measures the amount of curvature, he said, and recommends a child be seen by a doctor if it reaches a certain level.
“Scoliosis happens quickly in kids, often during adolescent growth spurts,” he said. “Parents will often say, ‘I saw him at the beach last summer and didn’t see anything, and all of a sudden he has a curved spine.’ ”
Wattenbarger said screening is recommended yearly because if caught early, there may be some medical interventions such as bracing that can prevent the need for surgery down the line.
Scoliosis leaves the spine resembling a ‘C’ or ‘S,’ according to Shriners, which provides specialty orthopedic care for children regardless of ability to pay.
It can lead to life-long pain and deformity, at its worst preventing lungs from developing normally and making breathing difficult.
While it can run in families, 85 percent of cases have no known cause. And it often appears during periods of rapid growth with children typically
diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 15.
Signs of scoliosis include uneven shoulders and hips, a body or head that leans to one side, and ribs sticking up on one side, according to Shriners.
Designed to be an intitial home check device for parents, the SpineScreen app, which is free on the App Store and Google Play, could also be beneficial
for family physicians and nurse practitioners, he said.
Simple to use, the app includes a brief video about scoliosis, Wattenbarger said, as well as a reminder to check for scoliosis every year.
“The best time to think about screening kids is when they start school and at Christmas break,” he said. “If it reaches a 15-20 degree curve, it’s worth
being seen by a specialist.”