The National Self-Detection Program for Scoliosis

The past several decades have seen major advances in the management of spinal deformity generally and of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) in particular. It is now well established that early detection of AIS, and treatment where indicated, result in better outcomes as might well be expected on general principles. This is the basis of screening adolescent girls for scoliosis because in the early stages of curve development the girls have no symptoms.

The screening of schoolgirls commenced in many countries world-wide in the 70s, but there was considerable debate about the cost effectiveness of the programs. Apart from the not inconsiderable cost factor, there were no data to establish clearly the efficacy of brace treatment. This was later demonstrated in a suitably designed international clinical trial.

School screening was introduced sporadically in Australia and to a variable extent in most states and territories. By the early 90s the cost factor led to the abandonment of most programs in government schools and a new strategy was needed. The Spine Society of Australia introduced The National Self-Detection Program for Scoliosis. In essence this entails the distribution of a simple Fact Sheet for the target age group (10-12 years of age) in which the outward signs of scoliosis are described. If, after reading the Fact Sheet, a girl or her parents think she may have a curvature then follow-up with the family doctor is recommended. An educational program on scoliosis for general practitioners was introduced via The Australian Family Physician and is available on this website. This is complemented by an educational program for radiologists, also available on this website.The specific aims of the latter program are to keep radiation exposure to a minimum when x-rays are required for assessment and to standardize reporting to assist family doctors in managing small curves (<20°) and making decisions on specialist referral.

The program is endorsed by the Paediatrics and Child Health Division of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Each year, all government and non-government girls’ schools will be asked  by a direct approach to school principals, to download the Self-Detection Fact Sheet from the website and distribute it to girls in Years 5 and 7 (10 and 12 years of age in most states and territories).

The optimum time for the detection of scoliosis is just after the onset of the adolescent growth spurt and this corresponds to Years 5-7 for the majority of girls.  No case has ever been made for the screening of boys for scoliosis or for any other forms of spinal abnormality in both sexes.

In summary, self-detection is the way for the future. School screening, when properly conducted, is an effective method for detection but the cost of a national program will remain prohibitive. On the positive side, self-detection places more responsibility on the individual girl for her own health and this is regarded as a good move as it is for so many areas of health these days.

The screening committee of the Spine Society of Australia has a representative in each State and the ACT who are available for consultation. They are:

Dr B C Ashman ACT
John James Memorial Hospital
Level 3 Clinical Services Building
Strickland Crescent
Deakin ACT 2600
Tel: 1300 790 788
Fax: 02 6282 8866

Dr P J Cundy SA
1 Kermode St
North Adelaide SA 5006
Tel:  08 8267 8267
Fax: 08 8267 2007

Dr A J Gray NSW
Suite 29, Level 7
Prince of Wales Private Hospital
Barker Street
Randwick NSW 2031
Tel:  02 9650 4983
Fax: 02 9650 4905

Dr M B Johnson VIC
64 Chapman St
North Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel:  03 9348 9469
Fax: 03 9329 4969

Dr S. Gatehouse QLD and NT
Van Thomson Building,
Suite 14, Level 10,
24 Chasely Street, Auchenflower QLD 4066
tel:  07 3721 8600
fax: 07 3721 8666

Dr P R Woodland WA
14 Altona St
West Perth WA 6005
Tel:  08 9322 7066
Fax: 08 9481 2857

Download National Self-Detection Program for Scoliosis PDF