Scoliosis is a curve in the spine of ten degrees or more. It usually forms an ‘S’ or ‘C’ shape when viewed from behind. Despite being a condition many are unfamiliar with, it is pretty common with three to four children in every 1000 needing specialist supervision (source: Scoliosis Association UK).
In most cases, the condition has no known cause (‘idiopathic scoliosis’). Occasionally, it is the result of a neuromuscular condition such as Muscular Dystrophy or Cerebral Palsy. It can also develop as part of a syndrome such as Marfan Syndrome, a hereditary disorder associated with the body’s connective tissues.
The range of symptoms associated with scoliosis may be very mild to quite debilitating, and this usually depends on the degree of the scoliosis.
“Symptoms can range from muscle tightness, pain, spasms, joint pain, reduced range of motion, and joint degeneration or ‘wear and tear’ resulting from poor joint biomechanics,” says Carolyn Fay, Chiropractor. “It can also lead to nerve compression and disc degeneration in the spine. More severe cases can result in breathing difficulties, cardiovascular problems, constipation, and menstrual pain as the mal-positioned body frame starts impeding organ function.”
Scoliosis can occur at any stage in life: before birth (‘congenital’), in young children (‘early onset’), in older children and teenagers (‘adolescent idiopathic’), and in adulthood (‘degenerative’ or ‘de novo’).
Typically, it occurs during a growth spurt in puberty, usually around the ages of ten to fifteen years old. The curve may be fixed if there are structural changes to the spine or functional if the underlying spine is normal. During the ageing process, it can remain fixed or become more pronounced.
In terms of diagnosis, smaller curves may not be visually obvious to an untrained eye. Larger curves often cause greater aesthetic asymmetries.
“An x-ray is the best way to confirm a scoliosis and measure the degree,” says Carolyn.
Chiropractic treatment and Scoliosis
There is evidence to suggest that chiropractic care in conjunction with exercise rehabilitation and lifestyle advice can help reduce the curve of a scoliosis, however this depends on its type and severity.
“Chiropractors work with improving joint biomechanics, muscle tone and nerve function which all help to manage the symptoms of scoliosis,” according to Carolyn. “Regular chiropractic care will usually improve symptoms and manage the condition to reduce the risk of the curve increasing and the risk or rate of associated degeneration in the spine.
“Back and neck pain is a common symptom so not surprisingly I have had many patients with scoliosis who have had great symptomatic relief and although chiropractic can’t ‘cure’ this condition, I am confident that they will have better long term health outcomes with the treatment, exercises and advice that I was able to give them.”
More severe cases may require more severe treatment options such as bracing, which involves fitting the person with a device over their torso to prevent further progression of the curve. Another option for severe cases is surgery, which is a complicated and delicate procedure with risks but this may be necessary in extreme cases.