A scoliometer is an instrument that measures trunk asymmetry in scoliosis, or angle of trunk rotation (ATR). It is a small, non-invasive device (essentially a mini-level) that is placed over the spine while a person is in a forward bending position. The scoliometer reading indicates degree of trunk asymmetry (rotation). Research shows that most people have a small degree of spinal rotation. However, depending on the measurement, spinal rotation is a possible indicator that scoliosis may be present. Scoliosis is officially diagnosed/confirmed with an x-ray, which is used to measure the Cobb angle (degree of the curve angle).
Frequently, patients and parents are confused between the scoliometer and Cobb angle because both are reported in degrees. Often, patients will come to my office for an initial evaluation for scoliosis having never had a scoliometer measurement. This points to the necessity of spinal screenings to detect scoliosis.
In my opinion, the scoliometer reading is a good baseline measurement and makes it easy to monitor trunk asymmetry during follow-ups. However, like Cobb angle, this assessment is also subject to errors since the patient must assume the same position each time and there can be a variation among examiners. (See studies below).
Hence, the scoliometer is a good tool for scoliosis screening but should not be used as a diagnostic tool. Scoliometers are commonly used in school screenings. Depending upon the scoliometer reading, an adolescent may then be referred for a spinal x-ray. Some practitioners will refer for a x-ray to confirm scoliosis at 5º, some at 7º. The x-ray will determine if scoliosis is present and allow the physician to measure the degree or severity of scoliosis. When scoliosis is present the physician should report the Cobb angle of the spinal curve(s) to the patient and/or parents. It is then that a treatment plan can be determined based on the curve measurement and other factors.
At Scoliosis 3DC, scoliometer measurements are just one of the criteria we use to monitor scoliosis over time in patients we treat using Schroth method exercises and/or the Cheneau Gensingen brace.