Healthy Living: New cellphone app can check for scoliosis

10/5/2017 | Debbie Gardner

Category: October 2017

Reminder Publications submitted photo

If you’re of a certain age, you remember the school nurse asking you to pull up your shirt and bend forward as she checked your back for signs of curving.

That was the annual scoliosis screening, something, Dr. James Mooney, chief of staff, Shriner’s Hospital for Children, Springfield, has become a less regular occurrence in many school districts as budgets have grown increasingly tight and fewer school nurses are available to perform the screenings.

Couple that with less-frequent pediatrician visits as children grow older and need fewer vaccinations and the opportunity to catch this growth-related health issue in a timely manner decreases, often just as symptoms become most visible.

But parents can now bridge this gap with an easy-to use cell phone app called SpineScreen, developed in conjunction with the orthopedic specialists at Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. According to information released about the app, Shriners Hospitals developed SpineScreen as part of an initiative to raise awareness about scoliosis and educate parents about signs and treatments.

Scoliosis is defined as an abnormal curvature of the spine that can restrict movement and in some cases, lead to other serious medical conditions. According to Mooney, it is most prevalent in children during the prime growth spurt period – 10 to 14 years of age –with more girls showing symptoms than boys.

“In some ways [SpineScreen] allows the parents to take the place of school screenings and at least get a look at their kids and get them to a medical provider if they see anything abnormal,” Mooney said.

He said the SpineScreen app – available for free in the App Store and Google Play for both Android and iPhones, basically functions like a level when examining the spine.

“What you do is you run through [the screening] twice or three times, it will process the data and say ‘screening sufficient’ or it will say ‘further follow up indicated’,” Mooney said.

That follow up, he said, usually starts with a visit to the pediatrician, but can progress to a visit to a pediatric orthopedic for more specific treatment.

The overall accuracy of the screening is going to be “user dependent,” Mooney continued. “It’s dependent on the parent to follow the instructions, but it is not supposed to give you scientific data. It is purely a screening tool and if used correctly, it gives [parents] the indication that ‘hey, I need to get my kid into the pediatrician’s office, or someone else’s office sooner rather than later’.”

In practice however, Mooney said SpineScreen is fairly easy to use.

“It does take a bit of practice, but it is pretty foolproof,” he said. “It can relieve concerns, especially for families with a history of scoliosis. They can see if everything is OK or if they need to move up that pediatrician visit.”

Mooney recommends parents use SpineScreen to screen their children about every six months while they are actively growing.

“Once they are skeletally mature – which is 15 for girls, 17 to 17 and one half for boys – if they don’t have a curve by then, they aren’t going to develop one,” he said.

For more information on scoliosis screenings, treatment options and to download the SpineScreen app, visit

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