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.

De Novo Scoliosis

As we explained in our blog on the subject, there are two forms of adult degenerative scoliosis. Today, we're going to take a closer look at the condition known as de novo scoliosis.

What is de novo scoliosis?

De novo scoliosis is a sideways spinal curve that appears in adulthood. The difference between de novo scoliosis and degenerative scoliosis is that de novo scoliosis affects patients who have never had scoliosis in the past.

'De novo' means 'new', and this name refers to the fact that the condition occurs later in life, during the patient's adulthood rather than their adolescence. It is uncommon for de novo scoliosis to arise before the age of 40-50.

Causes of de novo scoliosis

As bones get weaker and the ligaments and discs in the spine become worn due to age-related changes, the spine may begin to curve.

In most cases, de novo scoliosis is caused by the ageing of the facet joints and discs in the lower (lumbar) spine, leading to the vertebrae slipping out of place and the spine losing its shape. However, a number of other conditions - including spinal canal stenosis, compression fractures, and osteoporosis - have been known to contribute to the occurrence of de novo scoliosis.

Diagnosing de novo scoliosis

A physical examination and X-ray scan / imaging techniques are required to diagnose de novo scoliosis.

Common symptoms include:

  • Muscle fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Feelings of stiffness, numbness and weakness in the back and legs

Posture may also be affected.

In many cases, de novo scoliosis is not properly diagnosed, especially when it does not cause a significant amount of pain. A thorough inspection of the patient's medical history helps to determine whether any underlying issues have contributed to its development.

De novo scoliosis treatment

The best treatment for this condition can depend on the nature of the condition and the symptoms experienced by the patient, with both non-surgical and surgical interventions available.

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we use our own physiotherapy programme called ScolioGold to treat scoliosis sufferers of all ages. Physical therapy can improve the patient's mobility, boost strength and correct abnormal posture, and ScolioGold therapy combines a variety of proven non-surgical techniques to achieve noticeable, lasting results.

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What to Avoid When You Have Scoliosis

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we do our best to help people with scoliosis live the lives they want. Our scoliosis treatment courses aim to reduce the condition's impact on the patient's lifestyle, and we've achieved some truly heartwarming victories over the years - for instance, we've enabled numerous people to enjoy their favourite sports again, and we made sure that one young man was able to follow his dream of joining the army.

Having said that, there are some activities that scoliosis sufferers are better off avoiding (usually because they put unnecessary pressure on the spine, which can cause the curvature to get worse). Here are 5 things we recommend steering clear of - please remember that all cases of scoliosis are different, and that you should consult a medical professional before engaging in any activities you're unsure about.

1. Looking down at your phone

When you bend your neck forward to stare down at your smartphone (adopting a posture sometimes known as 'text neck'), the effect on your spine is as though your head were significantly heavier than it actually is.

Of course, we're all glued to our smartphones these days, but we're not saying that you have to put your device down for good - just be aware of your posture when you're using your phone, and try to avoid bending your neck forward if possible.

2. Lifting heavy objects

Lifting large weights puts pressure on your spine, and if it's already curving to one side, the extra pressure can make that curvature even more pronounced.

Scoliosis sufferers should endeavour to avoid lifting heavy objects alone. If you find yourself tasked with carrying a large weight, ask someone else to help you with it.

3. Certain exercises

Exercise is an important ally in the fight against scoliosis - indeed, our own ScoliGold treatment method is primarily exercise-based. However, certain exercises and stretches can do more harm than good when you're coping with a curved spine.

Read our blog post on Exercises to Avoid for more information on this subject.

4. One-sided / impact sports

Some sports are more problematic than others for scoliosis patients. To assess whether or not you should get involved in a particular sporting activity, ask yourself:

  • Will I be colliding with other players? Sports like rugby, hockey and lacrosse are best avoided for this reason.

  • Will I be putting more stress on one side of my body than on the other? Examples of one-sided sports include golf and racket games like tennis and badminton.

For more information on this topic, read our blog post on Sports to Avoid.

5. High heels, flip-flops, and other shoes that don't provide much support

When you're purchasing footwear, it's important to look for shoes that will give your body the support it needs. High-heeled shoes can put your spine under a lot of stress, but so can overly flat footwear such as flip-flops. Try to wear shoes with good arch support (orthotics/insoles can help with this).

If you are worried that your scoliosis will prevent you from participating in your favourite activities, please contact Scoliosis SOS today to arrange an initial consultation - we may be able to help you beat your condition.

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