Does your spine lean like the tower of Pisa? Once it curves to a certain degree this is called scoliosis. Most of us might remember a time in school when they were screened in gym class for scoliosis by the school nurse having them bend forward to touch their toes, but most people were never told why. As a chiropractor, I have treated many people with varying degrees of scoliosis. Even the people who have already been diagnosed with scoliosis often have many unanswered questions.
Scoliosis is a problem effecting the alignment of the spine. Ideally the spine should be straight from top to bottom, but scoliosis happens when the spine starts to curve to one side or the other, making it look like a “S” or “C” shape from behind. There are several causes of scoliosis (injury or bone infection, for example) but the most common cause is the most perplexing: unknown, called “idiopathic scoliosis”. It seems likely that there is a genetic reason causing people to develop this way. These cases most commonly are diagnosed during puberty, as the curve becomes more obvious during the rapid growth spurts of adolescence. Recent studies estimate that idiopathic scoliosis effects about 2% of Americans and the majority are female (1 citing JAMA).
Depending on the severity of the curve determines how we treat it. According to the Scoliosis Research Society, 90% of scoliosis cases are mild and do not require active treatment. Yet, in severe cases where the curve (50 degrees or more) results in deformities that start to encroach on the heart or lungs or cause degenerative changes and painful function in the spine, then surgical treatment should be considered. For the other 90%, there are exercises and braces which can be used during development to help prevent worsening of the curve.
Unfortunately, once a person stops growing there is no cure or way to completely reverse the curving of the spine and the best we can do is keep it from getting worse or becoming complicated. Chiropractic adjustments can be very helpful for maintaining good spinal joint function and keeping muscles balanced so the curve doesn’t get worse and also to keep the joints from jamming together which helps prevent degeneration/wear and tear/arthritis. One fact to be aware of is that even after the spine stops growing, pain and complications from scoliosis can develop later in life as it increases the wear and tear on the spine. Yet adults with scoliosis who aren’t candidates for surgery still have options. According to a 2011 study in Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, patients who received a 6 month course of chiropractic treatments had less pain, decreased lateral curvature (from x-ray findings) and less disability. These results were maintained after following up with these patients 2 years later.
The bottom line is, a diagnosis of scoliosis, whether it be mild or severe, does not guarantee a life of pain and hardship but it does often require that people be more aware of maintaining their spinal health to avoid future complications. There are many tools you can use through exercise and chiropractic that will allow a normal life without restrictions!
- Chan, Sue. “Study Reverses Scoliosis Myths.” Associated Press. 203, February 4. Found at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/study-reverses-scoliosis-myths.
- Morningstar, Mark. “Outcomes for adult scoliosis patients receiving chiropractic rehabilitation: a 24-month retrospective analysis.” J Chiropr Med. 2011 Sep; 10(3): 179–184. Found at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3259989.
- Scoliosis Research Society. “Treatment & Coping”. Found at http://www.srs.org/patients-and-families/common-questions-and-glossary/treatment-and-coping.