Scoliosis tests and treatments

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin has a team approach to treating patients with scoliosis. At Children’s, your child will benefit from the expertise of many specialists, including:

  • Orthopedic doctors
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Physician assistants
  • Pain management specialists
  • Orthotists
  • Physical therapists

What to expect at an appointment

When you bring your child to Children’s for scoliosis care, you can count on receiving the kind of care you’d expect from a top hospital with the most advanced tests and treatment options. Our experts understand that caring for kids with scoliosis means looking at the whole body and how it moves – not just the spine.

Since there is no universal treatment for scoliosis, each patient’s treatment plan will be unique. Your child’s first appointment will include:

A medical exam

 If your child has scoliosis and you come to Children’s, we will perform a detailed medical exam. Our exam is different than most because it includes a state-of-the-art, low-dose radiation X-ray of the spine using an EOS scanner . We are one of only a few orthopedic centers in the nation who currently have this scanner.

An activity level questionnaire

Your child’s exam will also include questions about his or her current activity level and abilities. Gathering this information helps us understand how scoliosis may impact your child’s daily activities.

A physical evaluation

In addition, our team of physical therapists will evaluate your child's:

  • Posture
  • Strength
  • Coordination and balance
  • Flexibility
  • Daily functioning skills (running, walking, lifting and carrying)

Based on the exam results, we will develop a treatment plan for your child. Our goal is to stop the curve from getting worse and to prevent future problems.

Treatment may include:

Observation

Not all curves need treatment. Some small curves will not get bigger or cause any problems. So rather than jumping into unnecessary treatment, our orthopedic specialists may monitor your child if his or her spinal curve is less than 20 degrees.

A back brace

There is a good chance that larger curves may increase. If the curve gets bigger, usually a range of 20 to 40 degrees, our specialists may decide your child needs to wear a brace. Braces are especially important if he or she still is growing. Braces usually slow down curve progression or stop the curve from getting worse.

Children's Hospital has on-site specialists called orthotists who make scoliosis braces. Some braces aren't any higher than the upper torso, so they can be hidden under most clothing. Patients usually can remove the brace a few of hours a day for sports and other activities. Sometimes the brace may only be worn at night, but that depends on the size and location of the curve.

Support groups

Parents and kids who are dealing with scoliosis often want to know more about how scoliosis might affect their daily life. Many people find it helpful to be part of a support network. At Children’s, we offer a support group twice a year for kids who wear a scoliosis brace. Patients and parents lead the group with help from a pediatric orthopedic nurse. We also offer surgical support groups who meet many times throughout the year.

Physical therapy

Patients with scoliosis often benefit from physical therapy. Our physical therapists are specially trained to care for kids with scoliosis. They know that the whole body, and how it moves, affects the spine. And they develop an individual exercise and therapy program for each patient. We base programs on the type and location of the spinal curve, as well as your child’s specific needs and activities.

Therapists will work with your child to improve:

  • How his or her body moves
  • Core strength
  • Flexibility

They will also work with your child to find effective ways to reduce pain that can sometimes accompany scoliosis. This style of care includes elements of the Scientific Exercise Approach to Scoliosis as well as other physical therapy methods. Therapists study current research related to spine care so they are knowledgeable about the most effective, conservative scoliosis treatment.

Scoliosis surgery

We see more than 3,000 scoliosis patients each year, but surgical patients make up only 3 percent of our total scoliosis visits. When a child with scoliosis does need surgery, experience, options and family support matter. Orthopedic surgeons at Children's Hospital use the most advanced techniques in scoliosis surgery, including procedures that dramatically reduce recovery time from months to days.

Safer care for kids: EOS scanner

eosscannerChildren's Hospital of Wisconsin was one of first two pediatric hospitals in the nation with an EOS low-dose radiation scanner. Doctors mainly use the scanner to help treat children with scoliosis.

Families already are traveling across the country for this cutting-edge care. Watch one family's story and learn more about the benefits of the EOS scanner: EOS Scanner: Patient family testimonial  .