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How do I know if I have scoliosis

Dr. John P. Lubicky

Chicago, IL
Shriner's Hospital for Children

Frequently someone else will point out an abnormality with your back. Others may see a hump on the back, the actual curve, the fact that your clothes are not fitting well, or that your trunk has shifted to one side or the other. The hump on the back is frequently seen best when you are bent forward. You may also notice that you feel crooked.

Dr. Thomas G. Lowe

Woodridge Orthopaedics & Spine Center, P.C.

As a first screening method, the best way is after a shower or a bath standing in front of a mirror and looking for asymmetry of the hips. Often times one hip will look higher than the other or one shoulder will look higher than the other. The rib cage may stick out further on one side in the front. A much better way to screen for scoliosis requires either a parent or a friend to look at the back while you are bent forward at the hips and by comparing both sides of your back while looking from the top of your back and the bottom of your back, it is usually very easy to determine whether there is a curvature of the spine present. If there is any suspicion of a curve by either of these examinations, then you should be seen by a doctor who specializes in scoliosis treatment for an x-ray and further examination.

Dr. Michael F. O'Brien

Denver Orthopaedics

Scoliosis is first identified typically by appreciation of slight asymmetries of the shoulders or hips. This may first be identified because of the asymmetric fit of clothing such as sleeves or pant legs. In addition, friends or family may notice a prominence on one side or the other of the rib cage in comparison to the other. This rib prominence may be accentuated by bending forward more easily identified. Asymmetries as just described should make one suspicious of scoliosis but a radiographic examination will be necessary to prove it.

Dr. W. Christopher Urban

Glen Burnie, MD

As the spine curves, it causes very subtle changes that may be detected through a physical examination. Patients often notice that their clothes begin to fit differently or that one hip sticks out more than the other. When looking in a mirror, a patient may see that one shoulder is elevated or that they lean to one side. Another way to screen for scoliosis is to have the person bend forward and see if there is a “rib hump” when viewed from behind. This is an asymmetric elevation of the rib cage that develops as the spine curves. If scoliosis is suspected, an x-ray will confirm whether or not there is a curvature of the spine.

Dr. Dennis G. Crandall

Mesa, AZ

Scoliosis is suspected when one shoulder or hip seems higher than the other, or when there is a rib prominence on one side of the back, but not the other. A full length spine x-ray answers the question for certain.

Dr. Robert S. Pashman

Los Angeles, CA

Scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, commonly produces a cosmetic deformity. Visible asymmetries in the contour of the back, or the observation that one shoulder or hip is higher than the other, are commonly the first clues that someone has scoliosis. In adolescence, these asymmetries are most commonly noticed during rapid growth spurts and are commonly noticed by parents or friends. In adults who previously did not suspect that they had any curvature of the spine, the realization that they are losing height may be the first clue that they have a progressive curvature of the spine. Direct clinical examination by a qualified orthopedic spinal surgeon will confirm the presence of scoliosis in an adolescent or adult.

Dr. Christopher L. Hamill

Buffalo, NY
Buffalo General Hospital

When you bend forward and your rib cage on one side looks raised.

Dr. John T. Smith

University of Utah Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Scoliosis is often noticed as a small difference in the shape of your back. The first person to notice this is often a parent, school nurse, or friend. If you think that you might have scoliosis, you can look through the pictures on this site and compare the shape of your back to these pictures. A diagnosis of scoliosis is confirmed by a visit to your doctor, who may wish to take an x-ray of your spine.

Dr. Scott J. Luhmann

St. Louis, MO

Uneven shoulders or hips, or asymmetry of the contour of the back (which is more obvious with forward bending) can be visual tip-offs that scoliosis is present. Also, individuals with a family history of scoliosis are more likely to have scoliosis. Assessment by primary care physicians can typically identify an individual with these types of truncal asymmetry and, if any is detected, a single frontal radiograph of the thoracic and lumbar spine is indicated to definitively diagnose scoliosis.

Dr. Jean-Pierre C. Farcy

New York, NY
M.M.C. Spine Center

You may have noted in trying on a skirt that one of your hips seemed to jolt forward or while looking into your mirror that one of your shoulders was higher than the other. Slight hump may have been noted in your back. This may have been noticed by your mother or in school by a nurse or a school physician. Your pediatrician may also have noted any of the above during his evaluation and told your parents and yourself about scoliosis.

Dr. Patrick Bosch

Albuquerque, NM

One of the most common hallmarks of curvature of the spine (scoliosis) is that the ribs appear prominent from the back when bending forward. Other common signs include asymmetric (uneven) shoulders or shoulder blades or asymmetry in the crease of your waist.

Dr. Baron S. Lonner

New York, NY

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that results in rotation of the spine and rib cage. As a result of this, there is asymmetry of the shoulders, the trunk, and the hips. School screening is done in the majority of the United States and relies on these body changes to detect scoliosis in school children. Commonly, one shoulder is higher than the other, one shoulder blade may protrude more than the other, and there may be a skin crease on the flank on one side of the individual and not on the other. Furthermore, one hip may appear elevated in comparison to the other side. Small degrees of curvature may not manifest with these signs early on and only with progression will these findings be noted. The definitive way to diagnose scoliosis is by x-ray evaluation of the spine.

Dr. Charles E. Johnston, II

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital Orthopedic Group

This is determined from a physical examination of your back, and confirmed by x-rays.

Dr. Robert W. Molinari

Rochester, NY

Your shoulders may not be level, your hips may not be level or you may have a hump on one side of the upper portion of your back.

Dr. Stephen Ondra

Chicago, IL

Scoliosis is typically a painless deforming curvature of the spine with rotation in children. Adults may have significant back pain. This can result in your back looking crooked, your shoulders being uneven, or developing a rib hump. In some cases, people feel that they lean forward or that their body shape is changing. One common way that people will notice they have scoliosis is by their posture changing or their clothes fitting differently.

Dr. James Mooney, III

Detroit, MI

Your physician will be able to determine whether you have scoliosis or not based on physical exam and an xray of your spine.

Dr. Frank J. Schwab

New York, NY

Scoliosis is often first noted by slight asymmetries of the shoulders or hips or appearance of skin folds around the waist. Occasionally, friends, family or you yourself may notice a prominence on one side or the other of the chest area. If a scoliosis is suspected it is important to have a spine specialist evaluate you. The most certain way to determine or confirm a scoliosis is by taking an X-ray of the spine.

Dr. David W. Polly, Jr.

Minneapolis, MN

You may not know if you have scoliosis. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine (the back). Sometimes it can only be seen from behind. Sometimes patient's note that they have a waist asymetry, or it feels like one hip sticks out more than the other. Usually scoliosis is found in a routine physical in adolescents.

The commentary above recounts the experiences of these physicians. Medtronic invited them to share their stories candidly. Keep in mind that results vary; not every patient's response is the same. Talk with your doctor to learn more about any products that are mentioned above.

It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications and benefits of spinal surgery with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your doctor's judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.

  • Published: June 20, 2002
  • Updated: April 19, 2010