Scoliosis - Diagnosis

Diagnosis for scoliosis is usually done by an orthopedist. An orthopedist is a doctor who specializes in bones and joints. The orthopedist normally takes a complete medical history and conducts a physical examination. In the medical history, the orthopedist attempts to find out whether scoliosis has been present in other family members.

One purpose of the medical examination is to look for specific physical causes for the scoliosis. For example, the doctor might look for nerve or muscle disorders that might cause the problem.

A major part of the examination involves a careful observation of the patient's upper body. The patient may be asked to stand, bend over, and lie down. The doctor is able to study the patient's spine in all of these positions. A simple device called a scoliometer can be used to determine the extent to which the spine is curved.

The most conclusive diagnosis of scoliosis is based on X rays. An X ray of the back shows exactly where and how much the spine is curved. The doctor can make very precise calculations from the X-ray photograph to determine a measurement known as the Cobb angle. The Cobb angle combines all of the data provided by an X-ray photograph to determine the extent of a person's scoliosis.

Occasionally, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses electro-magnets and radio waves to produce images of a patient's internal tissue and organs, can be used in the diagnosis of scoliosis. MRI shows the condition of the spinal cord and the nerves extending from it. It can be used to tell if problems with the nervous system are responsible for the scoliosis.

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