Scoliosis explained

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with scoliosis and your spinal curvature is – for the moment – still relatively small, you may be wondering how your condition will affect you as it progresses (i.e. as the curve becomes more pronounced).

As your Cobb angle increases, the curve in your spine may impact your day-to-day life in a variety of different ways. However, please bear in mind that no two cases of scoliosis are completely identical, and some symptoms that appear prominently in one patient may not appear at all in the next! There is no guarantee that you will experience all of the below effects if your spinal curve continues to grow; the aim of this list is to give newly-diagnosed scoliotics a general idea of what to expect as the condition progresses.

How will scoliosis affect my appearance?

Scoliosis examples

The visual symptoms of scoliosis include:
  • Visibly curved back
  • Leaning to one side
  • Shoulders sitting at different heights
  • Uneven hips/waist/legs
  • One shoulder blade / one side of the rib cage protruding more prominently than the other
The visibility of these symptoms varies hugely from one patient to the next, although a greater curve will generally result in more immediately visible prominences and unevenness.

What will scoliosis feel like as it progresses?

As your curve grows, you may experience any or all of the following physical symptoms (again, severity varies massively from one case to the next):
  • Back pain
  • Pain in other parts of the body (e.g. legs, neck)
  • Reduced flexibility
  • Muscular imbalance (i.e. a weakening of the muscles on one side of the body)
  • Compromised breathing

How will scoliosis affect my everyday life?

Mild cases of scoliosis usually don’t have a significant impact on the patient’s mobility – it is reasonably rare for scoliosis to become so advanced that it qualifies as a disability. However, while you should be able to get around without too much difficulty, your spinal curvature may cause problems if you participate in sports (or other physically demanding pursuits) on a regular basis. As noted above, scoliosis can limit flexibility/range of movement and create a noticeable muscular imbalance, and these symptoms can be hugely detrimental to one’s performance in certain sports.

If you experience pain as a result of your spinal curve, you may need to start taking pain relief medication as it grows larger. The type and strength of the painkillers you take will depend on the degree of pain you are feeling – be sure to consult your GP if necessary, as they will be able to prescribe certain medications that are not available over the counter. Chronic pain can have a significant impact on a person’s overall quality of life, making it harder to work, socialise and relax, but taking pain relief medication can help to minimise that impact (although most painkillers come with risks and side-effects of their own).

Most of the above symptoms/effects of scoliosis can be halted, minimised, or even eliminated completely through proper treatment. Treatment options include bracing, surgery, and physical therapy programmes such as the ScolioGold treatment courses we provide here at Scoliosis SOS – click here to find out more.
Idiopathic Scoliosis
 
Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type of scoliosis (a condition where the spine curves sideways). Approximately 8 out of 10 cases of scoliosis are classed as ‘idiopathic’, meaning that there is no known cause for the patient’s spinal curvature.

What does ‘idiopathic’ mean?

The word ‘idiopathic’ essentially means ‘without a clear underlying cause’. It is derived from the Greek words ‘idios’ (one’s own) and ‘pathos’ (suffering). If a disease or condition is idiopathic, it seemingly develops on its own rather than as the result of another condition.
 
While the cause of idiopathic scoliosis is often a complete mystery, it is believed to occur for any number of reasons, including:
Further reading: What Causes Scoliosis?
 
More commonly, however, scoliosis occurs with no apparent underlying cause. This is called idiopathic scoliosis.

Who does idiopathic scoliosis affect?

In theory, idiopathic scoliosis can affect anyone at any time of life. In the vast majority of cases, however, idiopathic scoliosis develops during adolescence, with the appearance of the curve roughly coinciding with the onset of puberty.
  • Infantile idiopathic scoliosis is diagnosed in children between 0 and 3 years of age.
  • Juvenile idiopathic scoliosis is diagnosed in children aged between 3 and 9 years of age.
  • Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 18

These are the most common times for idiopathic scoliosis to be diagnosed and early detection allows children and young adults to be monitored and treated before their curvature becomes too severe. If not treated early, idiopathic scoliosis patients may require spinal surgery.

Scoliosis is more common in females than in males, and adolescent girls are more likely to develop idiopathic scoliosis than any other sex/age group, so it’s important you check your child for idiopathic scoliosis regularly if you think they may be at risk. We teach you how you can check your child for scoliosis at home in this blog.

What causes idiopathic scoliosis?

The cause of idiopathic scoliosis is, by definition, unknown. If we knew why it happened, it wouldn’t be idiopathic!
 
That being said, it is widely thought that idiopathic scoliosis occurs due to genetic factors. In fact, it was reported in 2016 that researchers at a Japanese university had potentially identified the gene responsible for triggering spinal curvature: it’s called LBX1 and you can read about it here.

Is there a cure for idiopathic scoliosis?

Idiopathic scoliosis cannot be ‘cured’, as such, but it is often possible to arrest and even reverse the progression of the patient’s spinal curve before it grows too severe. Depending on the patient’s circumstances and the severity of their condition, they may be treated via bracing, surgery, physical therapy, or a combination of these methods.
 
Click here to learn more about treatment options available to idiopathic scoliosis sufferers, or visit our ScolioGold page to learn about how we treat curvatures of the spine here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic using exercise-based therapy.
 
If you have any questions about idiopathic scoliosis, or if you’re interested in our treatment options, give us a call on 0207 488 4428, or fill in our enquiry form below. 
Juvenile scoliosis

If your child is suffering from back pain, stiffness or discomfort, it may be a good idea to check them juvenile scoliosis. Juvenile scoliosis is usually diagnosed between the ages of 4 and 10. In patients aged 4-5, the condition is equally common amongst boys and girls; however, from the age of 6 upwards, the rate of occurrence of juvenile scoliosis is higher amongst females.

Unfortunately, juvenile scoliosis carries with it a relatively high chance of progression into a more severe form of the condition. The statistics state that as many as 7 out of 10 children with this condition will see it worsen as they grow, and in most cases of juvenile scoliosis, the curve will not rectify itself over time.

Diagnosing juvenile scoliosis

You can check your child for signs of juvenile scoliosis by looking to see if they have uneven shoulders, hips or ribs. The most common test used to assess juvenile scoliosis is the Adams forward bending test, which requires the child to bend at the waist, let their arms hang down, and place their feet together. In this position, it is easy to observe any abnormalities your child may have. We talk you through a simple test for juvenile scoliosis here.

Checking a child for scoliosis

See also: Will my child have scoliosis?

A medical professional should be consulted to professionally diagnose your child if you suspect they may have juvenile scoliosis. At your consultation, the examiner will be able to accurately measure the severity of the juvenile scoliosis. If scoliosis is suspected, the next step of the diagnosis will be an MRI scan to ensure that the curvature is not being caused by any underlying conditions that might be affecting the spine.

What causes juvenile scoliosis?

Sometimes the MRI scan will reveal the underlying cause of the patient’s spinal curve, but in most cases, the cause of juvenile scoliosis is unknown. However, it is widely believed amongst most medical professionals that scoliosis can be inherited. The reason for this is because scoliosis often develops in multiple members of the same family.

Nevertheless, genetic inheritance cannot be proven as the cause of juvenile scoliosis because the condition does not develop in a traditional pattern. Many scoliosis sufferers have children who never develop a spinal curve; likewise, many children who do develop scoliosis have no history of spinal problems in the family.

Treating juvenile scoliosis

There are several ways to treat cases of juvenile scoliosis, including physiotherapy, bracing, serial casting, and in severe cases, surgery. Physiotherapy is usually recommended for mild juvenile curves (between 10 and 20 degrees), whereas curves greater than 20 degrees may require both physiotherapy and bracing.

Once a curve surpasses 45 degrees, hard bracing is usually recommended until your child is of a suitable age to undergo surgery. This helps stunt the progression of the curve and provides more comfort for your child until their juvenile scoliosis can be rectified.

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we provide surgery-free treatment for people of all ages who are suffering with scoliosis. Our treatment courses are effective for any degree of scoliosis, helping to halt and even reverse the progression of the spinal curve. Visit our Results page to see some before/after photos of our younger patients with juvenile scoliosis.

Click here to find out more about our non-surgical scoliosis treatment programme for children and adults. If you think you or your child may be suffering from scoliosis, contact us today to book your initial consultation with Scoliosis SOS.

What Does Scoliosis Look Like?

Scoliosis is a complex condition that comes in many different forms, varies greatly in severity from one patient to the next, and manifests itself in all kinds of different ways. The symptoms of scoliosis are many and varied: a curved spine can cause pain, stiffness, muscle imbalance, and even heart/lung problems in particularly critical cases.

However, for many scoliosis sufferers – particularly those who are young and have only recently been diagnosed – the most daunting potential consequence of spinal curvature is the impact it can have on one’s appearance.

How does scoliosis make you look?

Curvature of the spine can affect your appearance in a number of different ways. Common visible symptoms of scoliosis include:
  • A sideways lean
  • Uneven or tilted shoulders, hips, legs and/or rib cage
  • Unusually prominent shoulder blade and/or ribs on one side
The severity of these symptoms varies greatly. Some cases of scoliosis are virtually invisible (particularly when the patient is clothed), whereas more pronounced curves may result in very noticeable prominences and asymmetries that are difficult to conceal.

Scoliosis patient gallery

To give you a better idea of what scoliosis looks like, here are some photos of scoliosis sufferers who came to the Scoliosis SOS Clinic for treatment (N.B. these photographs were taken before treatment commenced).

Scoliosis Gallery

How to combat the visible symptoms of scoliosis

If you are concerned that your curved spine may have a dramatic impact on the way you look, there are a number of ways to minimise the visibility of your condition:
  • Certain types of clothing are better at concealing the signs of scoliosis than others – click here for advice.

  • If your scoliosis is particularly severe, you may require spinal fusion surgery to correct it. This procedure will diminish the visibility of your curve, but it is usually only offered to patients with a Cobb angle of at least 40-50 degrees.

  • Completing an exercise-based scoliosis treatment course can go a long way to reducing the visibility of your spinal curve. Here at Scoliosis SOS, we treat scoliosis sufferers using a method known as ScolioGold therapy that has proven very effective when it comes to reducing curve size.

Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) can affect patients in a variety of different ways and appear in a number of different locations, including the upper and lower back. Cervical scoliosis is one such variant – this term refers to an abnormal curvature of the spine in the neck region.

Cervical Scoliosis

Typically, cervical scoliosis occurs as part of a larger spinal curvature, but in rare cases, scoliosis can be isolated to the neck alone.

Causes of cervical scoliosis

As cervical scoliosis is a relatively rare condition, efforts to discover causes and treatments are still relatively young. It is understood that, in the case of early onset cervical scoliosis, the curvature tends to form naturally at any time from infancy through to adolescence. Adult forms of cervical scoliosis, however, are more likely to stem from a spinal injury or spinal deterioration.

Cervical scoliosis can also develop as a result of another medical condition, such as:

Cervical Scoliosis Neck Pain

Cervical scoliosis does tend to cause more pain in patients than other forms of scoliosis. This may be due to a variety of factors, such as an imbalance of weight, cervical nerve roots becoming compressed between vertebrae, and an increased risk of further neck injury.

 

Treatments for cervical scoliosis

Fortunately, there are a variety of different treatments for cervical scoliosis that can help to relieve the pain. The best treatment method depends on the prognosis, the patient’s age, and the type and severity of the curvature. Treatment methods include:

  • Bracing – This is typically used for early onset cervical scoliosis, as it may halt the progression of the curvature until the patient is old enough to undergo surgery.
  • Physical Therapy – This method entails creating an exercise routine to help improve and stretch the muscles in the neck area. This is usually used in milder cases of cervical scoliosis, but can be effective in more severe cases too.
  • Pain Management – Non-surgical forms of pain management include nerve blocks, epidural steroid injections, and radiofrequency nerve ablation.

 

How we can help

We at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic are specialists in the field of spinal curvature issues. We work to help patients suffering from scoliosis and similar spinal conditions to resolve and improve their condition through non-surgical methods. The path to improving your condition starts with an initial consultation, where you will be evaluated by a specialist consultant who will be able to confirm the degree of your scoliosis and your prognosis.

After this, we will recommend the best treatment programme for your condition – this will provide you with your own customised exercise routine to promote the correction of an asymmetric posture, decrease pain, and maintain improvements going forward.

Find Out More >   Book Your Initial Consultation >

Scoliosis diagram

If you’re a scoliosis sufferer, learning all about your condition can be a daunting prospect, especially if you have only recently been diagnosed with a spinal curvature. There is a great deal of information available, from both reliable and untrustworthy sources, which can make the subject rather overwhelming and difficult to get your head around at first.

Here on the Scoliosis SOS blog, we are committed to informing those with spinal issues about their condition, as well as reassuring sufferers about the treatment options available to them. In today’s blog, we will be clearing up some of the common fears and myths that those with scoliosis are often exposed to – we hope that this will help you to understand more about your condition and how to manage it.

Tip: gather as much information as possible.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with scoliosis, it’s important to develop an understanding of the condition and explore the forms of treatment that are available to you. Seeking advice from a qualified medical professional is always the best place to start, but this does not mean that you shouldn’t seek out a variety of opinions and sources of advice. Here on our blog, we have covered a variety of topics and commonly-asked questions, ranging from where the condition comes from to the pros and cons of undergoing surgery.

Remember, your scoliosis is not your fault.

Many scoliosis sufferers and their family members worry that they have caused scoliosis to develop by engaging in or encouraging certain activities or lifestyle habits. In truth, however, the vast majority of scoliosis sufferers have idiopathic scoliosis, which means that there is no clear cause behind the development of the spinal curve. Most other forms of scoliosis are caused by underlying medical conditions that the patient has no control over, such as neuromuscular disorders, birth defect, or simply getting older.

Surgery is not the only option.

Many believe that spinal fusion surgery is the only effective treatment option for scoliosis, but this is simply not the case. In fact, many cases of scoliosis do not require surgical intervention at all, especially if the angle of the curve falls short of the 40-50 degree range that is normally used as the threshold for recommending surgery. Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we have helped patients with curves ranging from mild to severe, allowing them to reduce their Cobb angle and level of pain using proven non-surgical methods.

Scoliosis should not prevent you from achieving your goals. 

One of the biggest worries for those diagnosed with scoliosis is the fear that it will be a permanent restriction on their life. Whether it’s a career aspiration or much-loved hobby, the thought of not being able to live your life according to your passions and aspirations can be completely disheartening, taking a toll on your mental health as well as your physical well-being. The good news for those who have experienced these feelings of uncertainty is that scoliosis does not have to place unnecessary restrictions on the way you live your life. Many individuals with scoliosis go on to have successful careers and lead incredibly active lifestyles, even competing in sports at a competitive level. One incredibly famous example is none other than Olympic athlete Usain Bolt

Scoliosis does not impact your ability to get pregnant or give birth.

One commonly-circulated myth about scoliosis is that it causes difficulties during labour and reduces your ability to conceive. This is almost completely untrue, as scoliosis has no effect on conception and in the majority of cases does not impact the patient’s ability to give birth naturally. You should make your midwife aware of your condition, however, especially if you wish to have an epidural, as the anaesthetist will need to adjust their approach when injecting your spine.

There is support available to you.

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone, and that there are a variety of support networks available for those who are suffering with scoliosis and their families. From charities such as Scoliosis Association UK to groups like Curvy Girls, you will find an abundance of online support sites and forums that connect scoliosis sufferers from all over the UK and beyond. It can be a great help to speak with those who share your experiences and understand what it’s like to live with scoliosis, which is why we often find that patients who meet during our courses tend to keep in touch after their therapy.

Get in touch with Scoliosis SOS to find out more about our non-surgical treatment courses for scoliosis sufferers.
How is Scoliosis Measured?

With scoliosis affecting over 4% of the world’s population, it is easy to understand why many people would like to know the ins and outs of the process by which scoliosis is measured. Scoliosis is a medical condition that is characterised by a curvature of the spine and causes symptoms such as back pain, visible prominence and compromised breathing. To be diagnosed with scoliosis, the angle of your curvature must generally be at least 10 degrees. When measuring scoliosis, the curve is considered ‘significant’ if it is greater than 25-30 degrees and ‘severe’ if exceeding 45-50 degrees. 

Measuring and diagnosing scoliosis

In an initial consultation to measure and diagnose the severity of your scoliosis, the consultant will usually begin by looking for specific symptoms such as:
  • Uneven shoulders, hips, waist, legs or rib cage
  • One shoulder blade being more prominent than the other
  • Leaning to one side
After this stage, your consultant will also obtain your medical history in order to understand any symptoms you are currently experiencing which could influence your condition. They will also need details of any treatment you have previously received for your back to complete a full understanding of your spinal condition.

When the patient is a child, these details need to be discussed in order for the doctor to understand how much further the child will grow and if there is a history of the condition in the family. When diagnosing children, the Adam’s forward bend test is usually used: this requires your child to bend at the waist with their feet held together, arms extended and palms touching. The Adam’s forward bend test examines side-to-side asymmetry using a scoliometer. If any abnormalities (e.g. uneven shoulder blades) are apparent, the consultation will then move on to the second stage of measuring scoliosis.

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, the second step when measuring scoliosis is a medical examination of the spine and back. Two measurements can be used, the first being an X-ray examination to assess of the rotation of the spine. The curvature of the spine is then measured using the Cobb method and the severity of the scoliosis is determined by assessing the angle of the curve. Identifying the patient’s Cobb angle is essential to measuring scoliosis as it helps to identify magnitude of the spinal deformity. 

Cobb angle

The Cobb angle is calculated by measuring the angle between the most tilted vertebrae above and below the curvature. Perpendicular lines are drawn from the top of the highest vertebrae in the curve and the bottom of the lowest vertebrae in the curve. When these lines intersect, it gives us the Cobb angle, and this measurement tells us how severe the condition is.

The second measurement utilised at our clinic is a radiation-free back scan, which uses light and photography to digitally analyse your back shape and profile. This scan will then be discussed with you in full, and you will be provided with your own copy for your records.

At the end of your consultation, you will be provided with details on the degree of your spinal curvature and advice on the best next steps to take with your condition.

To find out more information about our non-surgical treatment courses, please click here.  We have treated numerous patients suffering from scoliosis over the years, and the results speak for themselves. If you’d be interested in learning more about what we do, please get in touch with us today.
scoliosis operation
 
If you have a particularly severe spinal curve or are considered to be at risk of further curve progression, it is likely that you will be offered the option of undergoing spinal fusion surgery to correct your scoliosis. While it is true that spinal surgery is a major operation that involves some risky procedures, there is also a lot of misinformation surrounding the subject, which can make things extremely stressful and intimidating for those who are thinking of undergoing the procedure.
 
To clear up some of these issues, and to provide more information for sufferers who have been offered a scoliosis operation, we have assembled a list of some of the most commonly-asked questions on this topic, complete with answers:
 
Q. How severe does your curve have to be before you’re offered the scoliosis operation? 
 
A. Although there is some debate regarding the threshold for scoliosis surgery, many doctors will recommend the operation to those who have a Cobb angle greater than 40-50 degrees. 
 
Q. Does it take a long time to recover after a scoliosis operation?
 
A.  Although recovery times can vary somewhat from patient to patient, those who undergo surgery should expect to be out of action for some time following their scoliosis operation. After surgery patients will generally stay in the hospital for three or four days, although this may increase depending on the extent of the operation. Your activity will be limited until the doctor can see evidence of healing, which can take up to 6 weeks. Large-scale healing will not take place until 4-6 months after the surgery, after which activity can be increased once more. We can help with the spinal fusion recovery process here at Scoliosis SOS – click here for more information.
 
Q. Can surgery cause paralysis?
 
A. Like any form of surgery, scoliosis operations can carry additional risks to the patient’s overall health and wellbeing. This fact is important to consider before undergoing surgery, but should not be used to scare patients unnecessarily. There are several possible risks associated with scoliosis surgery, including paralysis and other neurological complaints. The actual risk of experiencing these risks, however, is very low, with paralysis occurring in less than 1% of cases.
 
Q. What happens to my spine during my scoliosis operation?
 
A. The operation used to treat scoliosis is referred to as spinal fusion surgery, and it involves anchoring a series of rods to your spine, reducing the angle of your curve and serving as a splint to hold the spine in place. Following this, a bone graft (sometimes real, sometimes synthetic) will be applied to eventually fuse with your spine, preventing the curve from progressing any further. You can find out more about the process here.
 
Q. Can I still have a baby after undergoing spinal fusion surgery?
 
A. Yes – there is no reason why someone who has undergone a scoliosis operation should not be able to conceive (unless there are other mitigating factors to take into account). In addition, most women who have undergone spinal fusion will still be able to give birth naturally, as this does not necessarily increase your risk of having to undergo a C-section.
 
Q. Is there anything I can do to improve my recovery after my scoliosis operation?
 
A. If you are having difficulties with your recovery, or are finding that some aspects of your scoliosis have not improved in the way you would have liked, it is possible to seek post-fusion therapy. Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we provide assistance with back pain, mobility, secondary curves and more. Find out more about the spinal fusion recovery services we can offer here.
 
Q. Will the rods stay in my back, or will I have to have them removed?
 
A. Yes, in the vast majority of cases the rods are implanted for life, due to the serious nature of the operation and possible complications associated with removing them. Rods are removed in around 2% of cases, the most common cause for this being the irritation of the overlying muscles. In most cases, the fusion will hold despite removing the rods, although in some cases it is possible that bending may occur.
 
Q. Can my symptoms be reduced without undergoing an operation? 
 
A.  Although surgery may sometimes be the only option for correcting a severe spinal curve, it is often possible to reduce the symptoms of scoliosis without undergoing surgery. Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic in London, we provide effective treatment to patients from all over the world who have been told that they require an operation for their scoliosis. To find out more about our ScolioGold treatment programme, please click here or visit our video experiences page.
 
Would you like to speak to us about how our non-surgical scoliosis therapy programmes can help to avoid a scoliosis operation? Get in touch to find out more or to book a consultation.
Model Lily Crawford - Scoliosis SOS Patient

Scoliosis can have a serious impact on a patient’s confidence, especially if their cosmetic appearance means they cannot pursue their dreams. 

Lily’s Story

Lily Crawford from Yeovil, Somerset was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was just ten years old. She had always had her heart set on becoming a model. However, with her spine drastically curving, Lily lost her confidence and started to hate her back and how it was making her feel. She had almost accepted that her condition was going to mean modelling was out of the question. In her head models were perfect and no agency would ever accept her with her spinal condition.

Lily’s mother was extremely concerned about her daughter’s health and how the condition was affecting her psychologically. It was then that she discovered Scoliosis SOS, a specialist clinic which helps people manage their spinal conditions non-surgically. Lily embarked on a life changing 4 week course at the centre, which significantly improved the cosmetic appearance of her back and enabled her to fully come to terms with her condition.

Scoliosis Article in Yeovil Express

Here at Scoliosis SOS we tailor our treatment to ensure the focus is placed on the symptoms of the condition that are the most important to the patient. In Lily’s case, she was not suffering from any pain and was desperate to reduce the asymmetries surrounding her shoulders and hips. Our exercises strengthen and stretch the muscles surrounding the spine which brings the patient into a corrected upright posture.  The exercises retrain the muscles so that they are able to support the patient in their new posture. This allows us to achieve fantastic improvements to patients’ back shape and most importantly prevents further progression.

Click here to take a look at some of the positive changes our other patients have made to their spines or contact Scoliosis SOS to discuss treatment options for your back condition.