A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Pediatric spine care: When a child should see a specialist

When you think of spine care, you might immediately imagine an adult with back pain. But there is an entire orthopedic specialty dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of spine issues impacting children and teens known as pediatric spine care.

Child hanging from monkey bars while parents explore pediatric spine concerns

Pediatric spine specialists see a variety of back concerns in children.

Dr. Samarjit Jaglan, orthopedic surgeon at Marshfield Children’s Hospital, discusses the different types of cases seen at a pediatric spine center.

Common vs. uncommon cases

“Pediatric spine and deformities can come in all varieties, even seen in the neonatal period when children are born with visible deformities and have vertebras that aren’t growing in a normal manner,” said Dr. Jaglan. “That’s a very rare condition. We see maybe a handful of those a year.”

Much more common is scoliosis in teenage children.

“Patients between the ages of 11 to 16 that have a curvature of the spine have adolescent idiopathic scoliosis,” Dr. Jaglan said. “We’ll see several of those cases weekly.”

First steps

If you notice something seems off with your child’s spine, make an appointment with your pediatrician or primary care provider.

“Coming in to see us at Marshfield Children’s is the first line of education on what exactly they’re dealing with because each case is different,” said Dr. Jaglan. “The first thing is to get the patient and their families to understand what scoliosis and spinal deformities are, which ones are going to be worrisome and which ones are not.”

There’s also no need to rush to the hospital or emergency room if you notice a curve in the spine.

“With spine deformity, the good thing is that it’s not going to cause any immediate disability,” Dr. Jaglan said. “It’s not like the child is suddenly not going to be able to walk the next day. It’s something they’ve either had or is going to progress. They have time to consult with a pediatrician first or do their homework.”

The first provider they see will do the initial diagnosis. If it’s a serious enough deformity, they will be referred to a spinal care expert.

Treatment of spinal issues

While you may be worried to hear a diagnosis like scoliosis, many cases can be handled without surgery.

“The good news is that a lot of the scoliosis that we see does not require surgical intervention or treatment,” Dr. Jaglan said. “A lot of them are just observation. You see the child, observe them and do X-rays, you may do a follow-up during their growth period and if the curvature remains very mild, there’s really nothing you need to do.”

Many patients may wear braces or do certain exercises for therapy and can live a normal life with scoliosis. It may affect them later in life with some stiffness or discomfort, but doctors say the majority do not require surgical treatment.

If the spine condition does warrant surgery, Marshfield Children’s offers highly trained surgeons to help.

“When they do get to that phase of requiring surgery, it is highly specialized and it is not just a simple outpatient procedure or same day recovery,” Dr. Jaglan said. “It is a very unique service and a very complex procedure.”

One Response
  1. Oct 27, 2022

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