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.
Working Out with Scoliosis
 

Because scoliosis affects the spine, many gym-goers who have been diagnosed with scoliosis stop with their training for fear of damaging their backbone or further exacerbating the curve. But you'll be happy to know that you can continue to train as long as you're careful not to overdo it. 

 
If you suffer from scoliosis and you enjoy training at the gym - or perhaps you're a personal trainer working with a client who suffers from the condition - you should know that you can still work out with a curved spine; in fact, physical therapy is encouraged as it stretches and strengthens the muscles and improves neuromuscular stability around the spine. However, it's important that you don't do anything too strenuous, as this may cause your condition to worsen. 
 
Here is some advice that may help with your training:
  • It's important that you focus on movements that stretch the tightened muscle groups on the inside of your curve, and on movements that strengthen the muscles on the outside of the curve that have been stretched. It's also important that you focus on exercises that improve your 'core' - the central area that holds important stabilising muscles and helps keep the body upright.

  • Kettlebell exercises are a great way to improve strength and motor control. The windmill exercise is perfect for improving flexibility: this technique involves holding a kettlebell above your head, leaning to one side, and trying to touch the ground with your free hand whilst keeping the kettlebell held over your head.

  • It's important that you add weight slowly; progressing too quickly may cause you to strain the muscles surrounding the spine and possibly even damage the spine itself. Avoid overhead presses if they cause any discomfort.

  • If you are feeling any pain and it's limiting your movements, we suggest that you stop your training and visit a licensed physical therapist for an evaluation.

How can Scoliosis SOS help?

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we have a dedicated team of therapists specialising in physical therapy to help treat your spinal curve. Our ScolioGold method is a combination of the Schroth method and a range of other non-surgical spinal techniques from around the world, such as the PNF technique and the FITS method.
 
We also work to devise scoliosis-beneficial gym-based exercise programmes for our patients, as well as offering advice on what workout positions are best avoided and how these can be substituted with helpful ways to correctly strengthen your muscles while still getting the most out of all the equipment available at your gym.
 
Using our own combination of methods, we're able to provide you with gold-standard results. If you wish to undergo physical therapy, or if you want to find out more about our non-surgical treatment courses, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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.

Scoliosis - a sideways spinal curve - can 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.

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.

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.
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 is higher amongst females.

Unfortunately, juvenile scoliosis carries with it a relatively high chance of progression. 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.

Diagnosing scoliosis in children

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 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 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.

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.
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