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What is Scoliosis? Understanding Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options

what is scoliosis

Do you know someone who leans a bit to one side? Or maybe you've noticed an unevenness in your own posture? Scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, affects millions of people worldwide, and it can present in a variety of ways. Here at Activ8 Posture Therapy, we understand that scoliosis can be a source of concern, and we're here to offer insights and effective treatment options.

This article dives deep into scoliosis, from its various causes to management strategies. We'll explore the different types of scoliosis, including the lesser-known functional scoliosis, and explain how early detection is key. But most importantly, we want you to know that scoliosis is a manageable condition. Through early intervention and a comprehensive approach, you can take control of your scoliosis and live a full, active life.

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a condition characterized by an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine. There are two main ways to understand this curvature: medically and biomechanically.

scoliosis definition

Medically:

In medical terms, scoliosis is defined as a lateral curvature of the spine exceeding 10 degrees. A healthy spine has a natural, slight forward and backward curve (lordosis and kyphosis), but scoliosis causes an abnormal sideways bend that disrupts this alignment.

Biomechanically:

From a biomechanical perspective, scoliosis involves not just a sideways curvature (lateral flexion) but also a rotation of the vertebrae (spinal bones) themselves. This rotation causes one side of the rib cage to appear more prominent (called rib flaring) than the other and can further contribute to muscle imbalances and uneven posture.

The combination of lateral flexion and vertebral rotation is what distinguishes scoliosis from other spinal conditions like kyphosis (excessive rounding of the upper back), lordosis (excessive inward curving of the lower back), or a trunk offset.


Causes and Types of Scoliosis: A Deeper Look

types of scoliosis

Types of scoliosis can be categorized by cause (as described below), where the curves appear (as in the image above), and can be recognized as curving to the right (dextroscoliosis) or left (levoscoliosis).

Scoliosis can arise from various factors, and the cause often determines the type of scoliosis. Here's a breakdown of the known causes of scoliosis:

  • Idiopathic Scoliosis: This is the most common type, affecting around 80% of scoliosis cases. The exact cause remains unknown, but family history and genetics are believed to play a significant role. Studies suggest a possible link between certain genes and idiopathic scoliosis, and the condition can sometimes run in families.
  • Congenital Scoliosis: This type of scoliosis, present at birth, results from spinal deformity in the vertebrae themselves. These malformations can involve wedge-shaped vertebrae (unevenly shaped bones in the spine) or extra ribs that crowd the spinal cord.
  • Neuromuscular Scoliosis: Certain underlying neurological conditions can affect muscle control and contribute to scoliosis. Conditions like muscular dystrophycerebral palsy, and spina bifida can all increase the risk of developing scoliosis. In these cases, the weakened or imbalanced muscles cannot properly support the spine, leading to abnormal curvature.
  • Degenerative Scoliosis: This type develops in adults due to wear and tear on the spine over time. The aging process can cause intervertebral discs (the cushions between vertebrae) to deteriorate, leading to spinal instability and potential curvature.
  • Marfan Syndrome: This genetic disorder affecting connective tissues can also cause scoliosis. People with Marfan syndrome often have loose ligaments throughout the body, including those in the spine. These loose ligaments can't adequately support the spine, leading to scoliosis development. Rapid growth spurts in children with Marfan syndrome can further exacerbate scoliosis curves.

Functional Scoliosis:

It's important to distinguish scoliosis from functional scoliosis. Functional scoliosis is not a true structural deformity of the spine itself. Instead, it arises from muscle imbalances and biomechanical asymmetries in the body that can mimic the appearance of scoliosis on visual inspection. These imbalances can cause the spine to appear curved even though the vertebrae themselves are structurally normal.

It's important to note that research into the causes of scoliosis is ongoing. While the factors mentioned above contribute significantly, there may be other influences yet to be fully understood.

The Rise of Functional Scoliosis

There's a growing recognition of functional scoliosis, particularly due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and changes in posture. Muscle imbalances and asymmetries can lead to functional scoliosis, causing the spine to deviate from its normal alignment.

functional scoliosis

Muscle imbalances between the right and left hips, shoulders, and spinal muscles can lead to abnormal curves in the spine that look like scoliosis.

Muscle Imbalances and Functional Scoliosis:

Let's explore how muscle imbalances can contribute to functional scoliosis, specifically focusing on the lower back (lumbar spine).

  • Uneven Hip Height: If one hip sits higher than the other, it can tilt the pelvis and cause the spine to compensate with a lateral curve. This can mimic the appearance of scoliosis.
  • Tight Psoas Muscle: The psoas muscle is a deep hip flexor that can become tight due to prolonged sitting or certain activities. A tight psoas on one side can pull the lower spine out of alignment, creating rotation and a potential C-shaped curve in the lumbar spine.
  • Uneven Shoulders: Misalignment, weakness, or tightness in the shoulder muscles can pull the shoulder blades unevenly, causing the spine to curve to one side. 
  • Spine Muscle Disparity: Additionally, imbalances in the muscles surrounding the spine itself can contribute to abnormal spinal alignment.

Remember, this is not an exhaustive list. Other muscle imbalances throughout the body can also contribute to functional scoliosis.

Symptoms of Scoliosis: Recognizing the Signs

Scoliosis can present itself in various ways, and the signs and symptoms vary depending on the severity of the curve and the individual. Here, we'll explore the different types of symptoms associated with scoliosis, categorized as physiological, pain-related, and observational signs.

symptoms of scoliosis

Physiological Symptoms:

  • Uneven breathing: In severe cases of scoliosis, the curvature of the spine can restrict lung function, leading to shortness of breath or difficulty taking deep breaths.
  • Fatigue: The body may use more energy to maintain posture and compensate for the curved spine, leading to increased fatigue.

Pain-Related Symptoms:

  • Back pain: This is a common symptom, but not everyone with scoliosis experiences back pain. The pain can be localized or a general ache throughout the back.
  • Muscle pain: Tightness and discomfort in the muscles surrounding the spine can occur due to imbalances caused by the curvature.
  • Leg pain: In some cases, the curvature of the spine can put pressure on nerves, radiating pain down the legs.

Postural Signs:

  • Uneven shoulders, hips, or rib cage: These are telltale signs of scoliosis. One shoulder or hip may appear higher than the other, or the rib cage may protrude more on one side when bending forward.
  • Prominent shoulder blade: As the spine curves, one shoulder blade may become more prominent and stick out more than the other (also called a winged scapula).
  • Head misalignment: In some cases, the head may appear off-center relative to the shoulders and hips due to the spinal curvature.
  • Limited flexibility: The range of motion in the spine may be reduced due to the curvature, making it difficult to bend or twist.
  • Visible rib hump: In severe curves, a noticeable hump may appear on the back along the side of the curve.
  • Asymmetrical posture: Right-left asymmetries, like the entire body leaning to one side while standing or sitting is a common postural sign of scoliosis.

Not everyone with scoliosis will experience all of these symptoms. The severity and presentation varies greatly based on individual circumstances.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

If you suspect you or someone you know might have scoliosis, it's crucial to schedule a consultation with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis. X-rays or CT scans are typically used to confirm scoliosis and measure the degree of curvature. The physical examination is performed to assess posture, muscle tone, and any potential underlying conditions.

Even if you have already been diagnosed with scoliosis, a consultation with a qualified healthcare professional can still be beneficial. Here at Activ8, we can assess your individual situation and discuss how our posture therapy approach can complement your existing treatment plan. Posture therapy may help improve your posture, core strength, and potentially mitigate the effects of the curvature on your body.


Schedule a Free Consultation at Activ8 Today!

Don't hesitate to take control of your well-being. We offer free consultations to discuss how Activ8 can help you manage your scoliosis and improve your quality of life.

Curve Progression and the Importance of Addressing Scoliosis

Scoliosis curves can worsen during growth spurts, particularly in adolescents. This is why early detection and intervention are crucial. However, it's important to understand that scoliosis management is not solely focused on children and adolescents. Adults with scoliosis can also benefit from treatment approaches like posture therapy.

treatment for scoliosis

Addressing Scoliosis at Any Age:

The muscles surrounding the spine play a vital role in supporting and stabilizing it. When muscle imbalances or weakness are present, they can contribute to abnormal spinal curvatures, including scoliosis. The good news is that these muscles can be trained and strengthened through targeted exercises.

Posture Therapy for Adults with Scoliosis:

Posture therapy focuses on retraining and strengthening these spinal and core muscles. By addressing muscle imbalances and improving overall body alignment, posture therapy can help:

  • Minimize Curve Progression: Even in established scoliosis, strengthening supportive musculature can help prevent further worsening of the curvature.
  • Restore a More Neutral Spine: In certain cases, particularly with functional scoliosis, posture therapy can help retrain muscles and improve spinal alignment, leading the spine closer to a neutral position.

Here at Activ8, we believe that adults with scoliosis are not "stuck" with their condition. Through posture therapy and a commitment to exercise, you can take an active role in managing your spine health and improve your posture, core strength, and overall well-being.

The Importance of Early Intervention in Children:

Early intervention is especially important for children with scoliosis. During childhood and adolescence, the skeletal system is still developing, and the body is more receptive to postural changes. Posture therapy for children with scoliosis can help:

  • Rebalance Muscles for Spinal Symmetry: Targeted exercises can address muscle imbalances that contribute to scoliosis, promoting a more symmetrical and balanced spine.
  • Develop Good Motor Learning and Control: Posture therapy can improve a child's body awareness and proprioception (sense of body position). This enhanced awareness helps them develop proper movement patterns and reduces the risk of future postural problems.

By addressing scoliosis early on, we can help prevent curve progression and set children up for a lifetime of good posture and spinal health.


Treatment Options for Scoliosis: A Multifaceted Approach

Scoliosis management is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The most effective treatment plan will depend on several factors, including the type and severity of the curve, your age at diagnosis, and your individual needs. Here, we'll explore a variety of treatment options, from traditional approaches to more holistic practices:

exercises for scoliosis

Observation:

For mild spinal curves, particularly in young children, pediatric specialists might recommend monitoring the curve for any changes. This typically involves regular checkups with X-rays to track the curve's progression. Thoracic levoscoliosis (where the curve leans to the left) is a concern due to its proximity to the heart and may require closer monitoring.

Bracing:

Bracing is a common treatment for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis with moderate curves. A custom-designed brace is worn for a prescribed number of hours each day to help prevent further progression of the curvature. Bracing is most effective during growth spurts when the spine is most susceptible to change.

Surgical Treatment:

In severe scoliosis cases with a high risk of progression, orthopedic surgery might be necessary to correct the curvature and prevent further worsening. Spinal fusion surgery, which involves fusing vertebrae together to create a more rigid spine, and inserting metal rods to support the correction are potential surgical options. It's important to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of surgery with a qualified healthcare professional.

Holistic and Therapeutic Approaches:

While not a standalone cure, several holistic and therapeutic approaches can play a valuable role in managing scoliosis alongside traditional treatments. Here at Activ8, we believe a whole-body posture therapy approach can be particularly beneficial.

  • Posture Therapy: Through targeted exercises and alignment techniques, posture therapy addresses muscle imbalances and promote better spinal alignment. This can help improve core strength, flexibility, and potentially reduce pain associated with scoliosis.
  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to strengthen core muscles, improve flexibility, and enhance overall body mechanics, potentially mitigating the effects of scoliosis.
  • Chiropractic Care: Some people find chiropractic adjustments helpful in managing pain and improving spinal mobility in conjunction with other scoliosis treatments. It's important to note that chiropractic care is not a proven treatment for scoliosis itself.

Remember, early detection is key for effective management. By working with a healthcare professional and exploring a variety of treatment options, you can develop a personalized plan to manage your spinal curvature and improve your overall well-being.

The Activ8 Whole-Body Posture Therapy Approach for Scoliosis Management

At Activ8, we believe a whole-body posture therapy approach is a valuable tool for managing scoliosis. We go beyond just strengthening the core and consider the entire body as a connected system influencing spinal alignment. This comprehensive approach allows us to identify and address asymmetries that can contribute to scoliosis and hinder its resolution.

scoliosis before and after

Looking Beyond the Spine: A Holistic Viewpoint

Scoliosis is often viewed as a condition solely affecting the spine. However, our posture therapy approach takes a broader perspective. We understand that imbalances throughout the body, especially at the "floor" (pelvis and hips) and "ceiling" (shoulders and rib cage) of the spine, can significantly impact spinal alignment and contribute to spinal misalignment.

Examples of How Asymmetries Create Imbalance:

  • Uneven Hips: If one hip sits higher than the other, it can tilt the pelvis and cause the spine to compensate with a lateral curve. This can worsen or even mimic scoliosis or a leg length discrepancy.
  • Uneven Shoulders: Tightness or weakness in certain shoulder muscles can pull the shoulder blades unevenly, causing the spine to curve to one side. This muscular imbalance can further complicate the effects of scoliosis.

By addressing these imbalances through targeted posture therapy exercises and alignment techniques, we can create a more balanced foundation for the spine. This not only improves overall posture but can also potentially help mitigate the effects of spine misalignments and make other treatment approaches more effective.

The Benefits of Activ8 Posture Therapy for Scoliosis:

activ8-posture-before-and-after-15

Our whole-body posture therapy approach offers several benefits for people with scoliosis:

  • Improved Core Strength and Stability: A strong core provides better support for the spine, potentially helping to prevent further curve progression.
  • Enhanced Muscle Symmetry: Posture therapy techniques can address imbalances throughout the body, not just the spine itself, leading to improved overall alignment.
  • Pain Management: Improved posture and reduced muscle tension can alleviate discomfort and associated pains.
  • Complementary Treatment Approach: Posture therapy can work alongside traditional treatments like bracing or physical therapy for a more holistic management plan.

By addressing the bigger picture and focusing on whole-body balance, Activ8's approach can be a powerful tool for managing your scoliosis and improving your overall well-being.

Living with Scoliosis

Early detection and intervention are crucial for managing spine health effectively. Here are some additional tips for living well with scoliosis:

  • Regular Checkups: Maintain regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare professional to monitor the curve and adjust treatment as needed.
  • Posture Therapy: Corrective therapy exercises can strengthen the core and improve flexibility in the spine, complementing posture therapy benefits.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular exercise can contribute to overall health and wellness when managing scoliosis.

Conclusion

Scoliosis can present challenges, but it's a highly manageable condition. You can take proactive steps toward maintaining spinal health by understanding the different types and causes, including functional scoliosis. Early detection and intervention are crucial, and there are a variety of treatment options available.

Take Control of Your Scoliosis Today!

Don't wait to take charge of your scoliosis management. Schedule a free consultation with a qualified therapist at Activ8 today! We'll assess your individual situation, discuss your goals, and explore how our posture therapy approach can work alongside your existing treatment plan. Together, we can help you improve your posture, core strength, potentially mitigate the effects of scoliosis, and live a full, active life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I live normally with scoliosis?

Yes, many people with scoliosis live healthy and active lives. Early detection and proper management are key to preventing degeneration and trying to avoid spine surgery. While scoliosis can cause curvature of the spine, a variety of treatment approaches exist to help maintain good posture, manage any pain, and potentially prevent the curve from worsening.

Can you fix scoliosis?

Given the variety of factors in cases of scoliosis, this is not a straightforward question since it depends on the type of scoliosis we’re talking about. While many will say there's no cure for scoliosis, treatment options can help prevent the curve from worsening, manage associated pain, and restore spine balance to a great degree. The most appropriate treatment will depend on the type and severity of your scoliosis. Scoliosis treatments like a back brace or physical therapy are often recommended in cases, especially when diagnosed early. Compliance with the exercise component is difficult for some youth, so dedication is essential. For adults with scoliosis, posture therapy can be a valuable complementary approach to improve core strength, muscle symmetry, and overall well-being.

Why do I suddenly have scoliosis?

The exact cause of idiopathic scoliosis, the most common type, is unknown. However, it's believed to have a genetic component, as scoliosis can run in families. Other types of scoliosis have specific causes, such as congenital malformations present at birth (congenital scoliosis) or underlying neurological conditions (neuromuscular scoliosis). In the clinic, we see many who are told they have scoliosis but it is functional (i.e., coming from asymmetries in the body).

What are the early signs of scoliosis?

Early signs of scoliosis can be subtle and easily missed. It affects the body, and misalignments in the body affect spinal curves. Here are some common indicators to watch for:

  • Uneven shoulders, hips, or rib cage
  • One shoulder blade protruding more than the other
  • A noticeable lean to one side
  • Back pain

What exercises should I avoid if I have scoliosis?

There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best exercise approach depends on the specific type and severity of your condition. A healthcare professional can assess your individual situation and recommend appropriate exercises. Generally, exercises that strain the spine or place it in a compromised position should be avoided.

What is the most effective treatment for scoliosis?

The most effective treatment for scoliosis depends on the type and severity of the curvature. For mild scoliosis, regular monitoring might be sufficient. In some cases, bracing or physical therapy may be recommended. For severe or rapidly progressing cases, surgery (spinal fusion) might be necessary. Here at Activ8, we believe posture therapy is a valuable complementary approach alongside traditional treatments to help manage scoliosis and improve overall well-being — naturally.

Can scoliosis worsen during growth spurts?

Yes, scoliosis curves can worsen during growth spurts, particularly in adolescents. This is why early detection and intervention are crucial. By addressing scoliosis early on, we can potentially help prevent curve progression and promote proper spinal development.

What are the different types of scoliosis?

The four main types of scoliosis are:

  • Idiopathic: The most common type, with no known cause, typically diagnosed during childhood or adolescence.
  • Congenital: Present at birth due to malformations or abnormalities in the vertebrae.
  • Neuromuscular: Caused by underlying neurological and neuromuscular conditions like cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or muscular dystrophy.
  • Degenerative: Develops in adults due to wear and tear on the spine.

What is functional scoliosis?

Functional scoliosis is not a true structural deformity of the spine itself. Instead, it arises from muscle imbalances and biomechanical asymmetries in the body that can mimic the appearance on visual inspection. These imbalances can cause the spine to appear curved even though the vertebrae themselves are structurally normal.

I've already been diagnosed with scoliosis. Can Activ8 still help?

Absolutely! Even if you have already been diagnosed with scoliosis, a consultation with a qualified healthcare professional at Activ8 can still be beneficial. We can assess your individual situation and discuss how our posture therapy approach can complement your existing treatment plan. Posture therapy can help improve your posture, core strength, and potentially mitigate the effects of the curvature on your body.

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