Spine Problems | Diagnosis & Treatments

How are spine problems diagnosed?

Most spinal problems are detected by a child’s parents or pediatrician or during a school screening. Once a spine problem is detected, doctors will use medical and family histories, physical exams, and diagnostic tests to determine the nature and extent of your child’s spinal condition. Testing can include:

How are spine problems treated?

Treatment of spine conditions depends on the type, complexity, and severity of the condition. Some spine problems require surgery, while others can be resolved with non-surgical treatments.

Non-surgical options for spine problems

Simple observation and monitoring

Once an abnormal spinal curve has been detected, it's important to monitor the curve during skeletal growth. Your child's spinal condition may need only close monitoring as your child grows. Your physician will determine your child's treatment plan and follow-up based on their x-rays and physical exams.

Physical therapy

Some spinal problems are helped by physical therapy. The primary goal of physical therapy is to maximize a child’s physical functioning. Physical therapists work closely with spine specialists to provide exercise programs and other therapies to address the pain and muscular imbalance associated with a spinal abnormality.

Scoliosis bracing: How to support your child

Experts at Boston Children’s answer questions about what it’s like to wear a brace and how a parent can support their child when they have to wear one.

Two adolescent girls hold the braces that hold their torsos stable to prevent scoliosis from preventing. One of the braces is plain white and the other is has a pattern of blue swirls.

Bracing

Bracing can be an important part of treating spinal problems.

  • For children with neuromuscular scoliosis, bracing helps positioning and function.
  • For children with idiopathic scoliosis, bracing can help control or correct curves. The brace holds your child's spine in a straighter position while they’re growing in order to partly correct the curve or prevent it from increasing. A bracing program may help avoid surgery.

Casting

Casting is commonly used for early onset (infantile) scoliosis.

Surgical options for spine problems

Children with a spine problem may need surgery. The recommended surgery will depend on the child’s age, stage of development, and the severity of their curve. Types of spine surgeries include: 

  • Spinal fusion surgery, the most common surgical procedure for treating spinal problems. Usually, fusion and instrumentation are combined to correct and solidify the curve.
  • Dual posterior growing rods (MAGEC rods), typically used for younger, growing children with early onset scoliosis. This technique controls the progression of spinal curvature, while periodic lengthening of the extendable rods allows continued spinal growth.
  • Expansion thoracostomy/VEPTR™ (titanium rib), used to control the progression of chest and spinal deformity, while permitting growth of both the chest and the spine.

A preview of surgery day

Patients scheduled for spinal fusion surgery and their families spend an immersive afternoon in a simulated surgical area as they prepare themselves for surgery.

Clinicians in surgical gowns and masks use a mannequin to show patients what happens on the day of their spinal fusion surgery.