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.

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