Functional vs Structural Scoliosis

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 actually 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 actually 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).
Read on to learn more about the specific differences between functional scoliosis and structural scoliosis.

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

The way in which 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. We at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic use an exercise-based programme that has proven extremely effective. The ScolioGold method uses a number of different non-surgical techniques that are tailored to each individual case. To see how effective it has been, view our patient results here.

Functional Scoliosis

Functional scoliosis is when the patient appears to have a curve in their spine but it is actually 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 actually causing the curve. We recently wrote a blog post on how leg length and scoliosis affect one another – read it here. One of the best methods to combat the problems that leg length discrepancy (LLD) can cause is to wear appropriate orthotics and/or insoles that compensate for the length difference, taking pressure off the spine. If you have any further questions about the difference between functional and structural scoliosis, we would be more than happy to talk to you. Feel free to contact our scoliosis specialists today.
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.
Can Scoliosis Be Cured?
One must be careful when using the word ‘cure’ in a medical context. There is a big difference between a ‘cure’ and a ‘treatment’ – an effective treatment might completely eliminate the symptoms of a disease, but if the underlying disease is still present then – strictly speaking – the patient has not been cured.
By the most rigid definition of the word, scoliosis is more or less impossible to outright cure. Even if the patient no longer suffers as a result of their curved spine, their scoliosis is still there; even if the angle of the curve is reduced to the point that it no longer qualifies as a case of scoliosis, the patient has not truly been ‘cured’ because there is a chance that they may relapse and that the curve will begin to progress again.
Don’t worry, however – if you suffer from scoliosis, there are a number of very effective treatment methods that can help you to overcome the symptoms of the condition and achieve a high quality of life.

Common scoliosis treatment methods

When a medical doctor diagnoses you with scoliosis, they will likely recommend one of the following courses of action:
  • Observation. If your spinal curvature is quite mild and/or you haven’t yet finished growing, medical practitioners may recommend forgoing treatment for the time being and simply observing the condition’s progress. Further action can be taken at a later date depending on whether the curve improves, gets worse, or stays the same.
  • Bracing. Some scoliosis patients wear a back brace to halt the progression of their spinal curve. This is effectively a rigid plastic shell that prevents your back from changing shape any more than it already has. Sometimes the brace is only worn at night, but it is more common to keep it on around the clock (except when showering or bathing).
  • Surgery. Spinal fusion surgery is an operation that is commonly used to combat more severe spinal curves. Click here to read about this procedure and what it actually involves.
Remember, none of these approaches – not even surgery – ‘cure’ scoliosis as such. Rather, they aim to relieve the symptoms of scoliosis, straighten up the spine, and stop the curve from progressing any further.

Treating scoliosis with physical therapy

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we treat scoliosis patients using a set of non-surgical therapies that we collectively refer to as The ScolioGold Method. This programme is specifically tailored to the needs of scoliosis sufferers, combining numerous treatment strategies in order to effectively combat:
  • Back pain
  • Mobility and flexibility issues
  • Muscle weakness
  • Further progression of the condition
  • The visible symptoms of scoliosis (e.g. uneven shoulders, leaning to one side)
While ScolioGold therapy cannot truly cure scoliosis any more than surgery or bracing can, this has proven to be capable of minimising the symptoms of scoliosis and dramatically improving patient QOL (quality of life). It also has a demonstrable impact on the Cobb angle – click here to see X-ray evidence of this.
We at Scoliosis SOS are currently in the process of applying for NHS funding, which would make ScolioGold treatment far more accessible for UK patients. In the meantime, if you’d like to arrange a consultation at our clinic in London, please get in touch today.
Scoliosis is a fairly widespread condition, affecting roughly 4% of people worldwide. But even though tens of millions of people live with curved spines, there is still a lot of misinformation out there, and so many of the things you think you know about scoliosis may well be inaccurate or downright incorrect.
Here are 5 myths about scoliosis that we’d like to debunk once and for all:

1. Scoliosis can be caused by wearing heavy backpacks.

This first myth has been propagated by some big names over the years. For example, famous scoliosis sufferer Sarah Michelle Gellar has attributed her spinal curvature to wearing her school rucksack on just one shoulder, but while this bad habit puts extra strain on your back muscles and can lead to poor posture, there’s no evidence that it can cause scoliosis.
Similarly, Kurt Cobain once stated that the weight of his guitar caused his back “to grow in [a] curvature”, but this was almost certainly not the original cause of his scoliosis. We hope this will come as a relief to any guitarists reading this!

2. Scoliosis is always painful.

As we’ve stated on numerous occasions here on the Scoliosis SOS blog, every case of scoliosis is different, and a curved spine sometimes won’t cause any pain at all. It’s true that scoliosis often does cause pain, but it’s not a guarantee, and the severity of the pain tends to vary hugely from one patient to the next.
It’s not even the case that a more pronounced curve equals more pain – we’ve met some people with very extreme scoliosis who suffer little to no pain, and others with only minor curves who feel a lot of pain. As we said, every case is different!

3. Scoliosis only affects females.

Scoliosis is vastly more common in females than in males – in fact, adolescent girls are up to 10 times more likely to develop scoliosis than adolescent boys.
But scoliosis absolutely affects males as well. For example, Connor Bartlett is a young man who recently came to our clinic for treatment – watch the video below to hear his story.

4. Nobody knows what causes scoliosis.

Scoliosis can arise as the result of numerous other conditions, including cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and Marfan syndrome. It can also occur in older people as a side effect of the natural ageing process.
However, most scoliosis patients have what’s called idiopathic scoliosis. This type of scoliosis usually develops during adolescence, and while it’s true that we don’t yet know for sure what causes it, scientists have made some exciting progress on that front lately – click here to read more about that.

5. Scoliosis only ever develops during adolescence.

As mentioned above, idiopathic scoliosis usually starts developing during the patient’s pre-teen / teenage years, but that’s far from the whole story. Young children can developed curved spines,  as can older people; even if you’re not of the age at which idiopathic scoliosis usually manifests itself, you may still develop a curved spine as the result of another underlying condition.
This information is provided by the team at Scoliosis SOS. Based in London, England, the Scoliosis SOS Clinic is one of the world’s leading providers of non-surgical treatment for scoliosis and other spinal conditions – click here to learn more about our ScolioGold treatment programme, or contact us now to book a consultation.