Illinois schools no longer required to check for scoliosis

Life is full of ups and downs - and the occasional curve. For 7 million Americans, that curve is a physical condition.

Scoliosis, often diagnosed in adolescents age 10-18, occurs when the spine abnormally curves from side to side.

At the age of 13, a typical doctor visit turned into a surprising diagnosis for Elizabeth Golden.

"I was expecting things to be normal," says Golden. "It all happened so fast."

Her doctor detected an idiopathic, 27-degree "S" curve. In general, 80 percent of scoliosis cases are idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. It's a condition seen across all races.

"The biggest concern is growing teenagers or pre-teens," says Christopher DeWald, orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor at Rush University Medical Center.

Scoliosis is painless, but each degree makes a difference, especially in children whose spines are growing and developing for years to come. Spines with less than a 30-degree curvature have few problems, unlike patients with larger curves.

A difference in shoulder height, waist asymmetry or rib prominence-one side looks higher when bent forward-are all possible hints of scoliosis. The pattern is often identical, forming a backward S. The upper spine tends to curve to the right while the lower spine curves to the left.

Following the curve

Golden describes her childhood curve as abnormally shaped, which meant ordinary braces weren't an option. Because she was only 13, her spine was growing. She just had to wait and see if it would continue to curve.

A few months later, X-rays showed the curve had progressed.

"When my curve got to 40 degrees, my doctor said, 'You're going to need surgery.' The decision was scary-there's a chance of paralysis," says Golden. Her aunt and grandmother, having had the surgery, influenced her choice to do so.

Scoliosis tends to run in families, but experts haven't pinpointed the gene. At least 50 percent of those diagnosed have no family history, according to DeWald, meaning the genetic inheritance is still a puzzle.

Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis occurs 75-80 percent of the time in girls, "probably something with girls reaching a growth spurt sooner than boys, but it could be genetic," says DeWald. "We're more concerned about girls who haven't started their periods and already have a significant curve."

Scoliosis treatments include observation, bracing or surgery. It has come a long way since Joan Cusack's brace in the 1980s flick "Sixteen Candles."

"If you look back 20 years, patients were in the hospital for three to four weeks and a body cast for up to nine months. Oftentimes they didn't return to sport activities," says DeWald. "Today our patients are out in four to five days and they're playing competitive sports in six to nine months, excluding contact sports like football and gymnastics."

Life after

After the successful surgery, Golden stayed home for two months. Sitting straight as a board, she took exams at her dining room table and homework sheets were pushed in front of her. An in-home tutor kept her on track in school.

Being an active kid, Golden worried about not playing her favorite sports.

"I listed every sport I wanted to do and my doctor checked off when I'd be able to do each one," she recalls. More extreme sports like water skiing, bungee jumping and sky diving are excluded.

The surgery left her exhausted and physical rehabilitation took a while, so she took a tennis season off.

She decided to have the surgery in the spring. That next winter she was playing squash.

Looking back, Golden thinks she gained confidence because she successfully dealt with a physical abnormality in the awkward middle school stage.

Throughout the diagnosis, surgery and recovery, she wrote When Life Throws You a Curve, chronicling the journey.

Today, Golden is a spokesperson for the National Scoliosis Foundation. She hopes people become more aware of the condition as well as cutbacks on school screenings, which are no longer mandated in Illinois. That means pediatricians should be checking for scoliosis in children age 7 and up during routine examinations.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that health officials screen girls twice (at age 10 and 12) and boys once (at age 13 or 14).

The case for screenings

Only 26 states mandate school scoliosis screenings. Illinois isn't one of them. Georgia does. From the age of 10 to 14, both boys and girls are screened twice.

"It's 30 seconds for each student, and there's a variety of ways for it to be accomplished," says Mary Lou Oliver, Scoliosis Screening Program coordinator at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Georgia has a two-step process. First, health officials teach volunteers or coaches how to do the screening. Using a form, the schools work with the public health department to do a second screening on kids who possibly have scoliosis.

"We expect to have within that screening program specificity and sensitivity so you get the kids that are positive for scoliosis without getting too many false positives," Oliver says.

Screenings can also find other things like impetigo, moles, MRSA or fungal infections, according to Oliver.

Illinois only requires physical examinations before a child enters sixth and ninth grade.

"You're going to miss when this is developing in adolescent growth spurts," says Oliver of the Illinois process. "Kids need to be screened annually."

Elizabeth Espindola is a former Chicago Parent intern.

Past articles

How to teach kids that it's okay to have feelings

An important lesson for kids to learn is that it's perfectly normal to experience a wide range of emotions, and to show them when you feel them.  Read...

 

Knowing when to ask for help

Asking for help isn't always easy, but it's something every Chicago parent has to do at some point.  Read...

 

Pin-tested: Curling hair with a flat iron

With winter descending upon Chicago all too soon, moms can keep some spring in their hair with this mom-tested pin on Pinterest. Read...

 
Sponsored post

9 tips for finding the perfect school for your child and family

The school search can be complex and overwhelming. Take these steps to help ensure you find a school that’s a great fit for your child and your family. Read...

 
 
Sponsored by
Bennett Day School

Bengtson's Pumpkin Farm offers fun family experiences in Chicago's south suburbs

You'll find Bengtson's Pumpkin Farm 25 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. It features all the amenities you'd expect, plus a few surprises! Read...

 

Halloween – The Season of Giving

Marianne Walsh hasn't bought a single piece of candy for trick-or-treaters Friday, but she's got Christmas already wrapped up. Sound familiar or is she just nuts? Read...

 

Halloween craft: Teal trick-or-treat bags for Chicago's allergy sufferers

Erin is taking the popular #TealPumpkinProject one step further with this craft for trick-or-treaters who suffer from allergies.  Read...

 

Chicago dad fears: The scariest thing about halloween? Christmas

How one dad is mentally preparing for the explosion of materialism that follows Halloween. Read...

 

Experience the perfect family staycation at The Four Seasons Chicago

The Four Seasons Chicago has mastered the art of catering to kids. Check out their new 'Let's Get Away' package for the perfect staycation. Read...

 
 



 
 
 
Copyright 2014 Wednesday Journal Inc. All rights reserved. Chicago web development by liQuidprint