Scoliosis – Everything You Need to Know

Scoliosis - Everything You Need to Know

Scoliosis – You may have heard about it and know that it means a bend in the spine; however, do not know how it happens and if it even matters?

By the end of this vlog, these questions will be answered, plus you will know what you can do about it!   

So, what is Scoliosis? 

Scoliosis was originally a Greek word meaning curved or bent. Today it is a word used to describe the most common type of spinal curvature. Scoliosis is simply a descriptive term, like headache, and not an actual diagnosis. 

When scoliosis develops the spine bends sideways and rotates along its vertical axis. These changes have cosmetic and physiological effects with long-term consequences, which may result in significant health problems with severe curves.

How do you know if you have scoliosis? 

The only way that scoliosis can be confirmed is through Xray. Scoliosis is defined as curvature in the coronal plane (side to side, not front to back) of greater than 10 degrees.

A simple test you can do at home is the Adams forward bend test. Bend forward as far as possible and have a friend stand behind you to see if your back is even (there are no hunches on the right or left). If a prominence is noted, then scoliosis is a possibility, and an X-ray may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

Symptoms associated with scoliosis can include:

  • Pain in the back, shoulders, neck and buttock pain nearest the bottom of the back
  • Respiratory or cardiac problems in severe cases
  • Constipation due to curvature causing “tightening” of the stomach, intestines, etc.
  • Limited mobility secondary to pain or functional limitation in adults
  • Painful menstruation

The signs of scoliosis can include:

  • Uneven musculature on one side of the spine
  • Rib prominence or a prominent shoulder blade, caused by rotation of the rib cage in thoracic scoliosis
  • Uneven hips, arms, or leg lengths
  • Heart and lung problems in severe cases
  • Calcium deposits in the cartilage endplate and sometimes in the disc itself

Types Of Scoliosis

There are many causes of scoliosis like there are many causes of headache. It is the doctor’s task to determine which type of scoliosis the patient has.

Broadly speaking, all cases of scoliosis can be sorted into two different categories: functional scoliosis and structural scoliosis. Determining which type of scoliosis a patient is suffering from helps to ensure that an appropriate course of treatment is selected.

In a nutshell, the difference between functional and structural scoliosis is as follows:

  • Structural scoliosis is when the patient’s spine has a physical curve.
  • Functional scoliosis is when the spine appears to be curved, but the apparent curvature is actually the result of an irregularity elsewhere in the body (e.g. different leg lengths).

The most common type of Scoliosis is:

The most common type of scoliosis is Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS)

An estimated 65% of scoliosis cases are idiopathic, about 15% are congenital, and about 10% are secondary to a neuromuscular disease. The prevalence of scoliosis is 1% to 2% among adolescents.

Idiopathic what?! The word idiopathic also comes from the Greek language and means pathology unto itself. More simply, idiopathic means a condition not associated with any other disease or disorder.

This type appears in early adolescence and is much more common in girls than boys. AIS in girls accounts for about 90 percent of curves seen in clinical practice.

This is one reason why we do scoliosis checks on all our young clients, as treatment options are much more successful before puberty. 

What is a Structural Scoliosis?

Structural scoliosis is when there is an actual ‘structural’ curve in the spine, which can progress over time if not treated correctly. There is no clear underlying cause for most cases of structural scoliosis, although it can be caused by nerve or muscle disorders (such as cerebral palsy), birth disorders (such as spina bifida), or an injury or tumour.

How to treat structural scoliosis

How structural scoliosis should be treated is dependent on the individual’s circumstances, with both the cause and the severity of the curve being taken into account. For more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to stop the condition from progressing.

Non-surgical treatment options are available, too, such as physical therapy, orthotics and specific chiropractic adjustments.

What is Functional Scoliosis?

Functional scoliosis is when the patient appears to have a curve in their spine, but it is caused by another condition, such as a difference in leg length or a muscle spasm. This happens because the body naturally tries to maintain symmetry – the spinal curve is the body’s way of compensating for the underlying problem.

How to treat functional scoliosis

As the spine itself isn’t curved in cases of functional scoliosis, the usual scoliosis treatments don’t necessarily apply here. However, certain stretches and exercises may be able to relieve the pain that can arise from this condition.

In general, the best way to treat functional scoliosis is to look at what is causing the curve. It is fairly common for a person with scoliosis to also suffer from uneven legs and flat feet.

One of the best methods to combat the problems that leg length discrepancy (LLD) can cause is to have a health professional check your posture and movement patterns. When your gait (the way you walk) is balanced, hips, knees and ankles are clear of any dysfunction and pelvis is strong and stable, then LLD will clear in many cases.

There are two different types of limb length discrepancy (LLD), which are as follows:

  • Functional Leg Length Discrepancy - Functional LLD may be caused by scoliosis. A curved spine may cause the pelvis to become uneven, making one leg appear to be longer than the other (even though both legs are the same length).
  • Anatomical Leg Length Discrepancy - This is when the structural length of the two legs is different (i.e. there is a genuine length difference between one leg and the other).

Anatomical limb length discrepancy can actually lead to scoliosis since the body tries to compensate for the difference in leg length. This means that scoliosis can both cause and be caused by a difference in leg length.

Luckily, there are some simple ways to address leg length discrepancy without resorting to corrective surgery. This is something we see and correct at Open Space every day through specific chiropractic adjustments.

So there you have it, our guide to scoliosis!

If you or a loved one believe that they may have scoliosis, then comment below or send us an email. We are more than happy to answer any of your questions.

Yours in great health,

Dr Andy & Dr Jacinta

Andy and Jacinta