Early Diagnosis

Program targets early prevention, treatment of scoliosis

By Don Wade

Of the approximately 7 million people in the United States that have scoliosis (curvature of the spine), most of them are teenagers and children.

Dr. Derek M. Kelly of the Campbell Clinic demonstrates a scoliosis examination to Shelby County Schools district nurse Lisa Anderson and others at Medtronic’s Spine Check: Community initiative. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Years ago, scoliosis screenings in the public schools were the norm. Today, less than 50 percent of the states require the screenings. This despite the fact that the Adam’s Forward Bend test – the initial screening for scoliosis – can be done in less than 30 seconds.

Tennessee only recommends scoliosis screenings, but Medtronic Inc. has teamed up with Shelby County Schools to reintroduce the screenings for sixth and eighth graders. More than 25,000 students are expected to be screened during the coming school year.

“We’re focusing on adolescents, when they’re in a good growth pattern,” said Shunji Brown-Woods, director of Coordinated School Health for the school system.

Medtronic’s Spine Check: Community, a scoliosis awareness and treatment initiative, has been operational since 2008. Partnering with the schools was a natural, said Grady Davis, a Medtronic marketing director. The program was organized by the Medtronic Employee Chapter of the African Descent Network in partnership with Medtronic Spinal’s Thoracolumbar Marketing team and SCS.

“Scoliosis does have a disproportionate impact on the African-American community,” Davis said.

One recent study found that scoliosis curves in the surgical range occurred more often in black patients (34 percent) than white patients (24 percent). Girls are eight times more likely to develop severe scoliosis than boys. Nationwide, scoliosis affects from 3 to 5 percent of children.

About 10 percent of adolescents have some degree of scoliosis, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, but less than 1 percent requires treatment. In 80 percent of cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown.

What is known is that early screening leads to early detection and earlier referral and treatment and, if necessary, surgery.

In the Adam’s Bend Forward test, the child bends forward with arms dangling by her sides, feet together and knees straight. If there is a curvature of the spine, it will be more noticeable in this position. The screener may detect an imbalanced rib cage, with one side being higher than the other, or other deformities.

Dr. Derek M. Kelly of Campbell Clinic conducted a training session for the school nurses who will administer the Adam’s Bend Forward tests, beginning on Aug. 19. Christ Community Health Services, one of Medtronic’s Health Access Grant recipients, will work with students referred by the school system to help provide further referral and follow-up care.

“The continuum of care is kind of already defined in the program, as opposed to opening the loop and leaving us hanging,” Brown-Woods said.

“It doesn’t prevent surgical intervention,” Medtronic convention manager Jasmine Moore said of the early screening. “But it gives students early access.”

And over the long haul, that should result in better outcomes and curtail expenses.

“Health care costs are up for everything,” Brown-Woods said. “So this can make an impact over time.”

Scoliosis can stop kids from playing sports, limit mobility, cause severe pain, and chip away at a child’s self-esteem. Early diagnosis can mean utilizing an array of treatment options – from special exercises and bracing to surgery in more serious cases.

Moore says while Medtronic has been on the ground floor of this program and getting screenings back in the schools, the goal was never to make Shelby County Schools dependent on Medtronic to keep it going.

“We’re trying to give Shelby County Schools sustainable tools for years to come with or without Medtronic,” she said. “Our resources are here long-term.”