Doctors seeing increase in severe scoliosis cases

Dr. Dimar believes the lack of scoliosis screenings in schools across the country may be contributing to the increase. Many school districts stopped screening for scoliosis several years ago, when it no longer became a state requirement.

Twelve-year-old Aubrey Hinkle’s scoliosis diagnosis came after her poor posture caught her stepfather’s eye.

“He asked her to stand straight and she said she was standing straight,” said Aubrey’s mother, Nicole Sewell.

No matter how hard Aubrey tried to stand straight, her back was lopsided.

“I pulled up her shirt and knew exactly what it was — I was like, this is scoliosis,” Nicole said.

Within days, Aubrey was in the office of Norton Leatherman Spine’s John R. Dimar, M.D. He discovered Aubrey’s spine was severely curved. She was far past the point of bracing to correct it. Aubrey needed surgery.

Physicians determine the severity of scoliosis by using a calculation called the Cobb method to measure the angle between the most tilted vertebrae at the top and bottom of the spinal curve. Patients with a Cobb angle, or scoliosis curve, of 20 to 40 degrees are typically candidates for back bracing.

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Aubrey’s scoliosis curvature was at 65 degrees. Dr. Dimar has seen an uptick in severe scoliosis cases like Aubrey’s, in which surgery is the only option.

He believes the lack of scoliosis screenings in schools across the country may be contributing to the increase. Many school districts stopped screening for scoliosis several years ago, when it no longer became a state requirement.

“Some scientific articles suggest that because school screenings are no longer done, there’s been an increase in the actual number of cases that require surgeries,” Dr. Dimar said. “I think the school screenings were a catch bucket or safety net for scoliosis.”

Physicians can correct many scoliosis cases with bracing if caught early enough

Early detection is key. In most cases, if diagnosed early enough, a brace can straighten the spine. The longer it goes undetected and untreated, surgery becomes the only option.

“Half the kids I see for scoliosis already have severe curves that have not been treated,” Dr. Dimar said.

During Aubrey’s scoliosis surgery, Dr. Dimar used a combination of spinal hooks, screws and dual rods to straighten out her spine. Following surgery, she gained about 2 inches of height and her shoulders evened out.

Parents should be aware of the telltale signs of scoliosis, such as uneven shoulders and hips, or one or more ribs that protrude. Students should be screened during back-to-school physicals, but it’s also important for parents to keep a close eye on their children’s backs, as scoliosis can go unnoticed.

That was the case for Aubrey’s mother, as her daughter’s curved spine slowly progressed over time.

“I didn’t notice a significant change with her, because I see her every day,” Nicole said.

The time scoliosis really begins to take shape is during puberty. Between ages 11 to 15, girls tend to become less comfortable with unclothing in front of their parents, thus signs of scoliosis can go unnoticed.

“That’s why it’s important for parents to be proactive in looking at their children’s backs and have their primary care providers routinely evaluate for spine deformities.” Dr. Dimar said.


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