What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis means ‘curvature of the spine’. It is not a medical condition as such, but rather scoliosis is simply a descriptive term, like headache, and not a precise diagnosis. In this case it is used to describe any abnormal, sideways curvature of the spine.
Typically when we view a spine form the back (or front), it should be straight. Scoliosis is present when the spine is curved to the side, making it look like a ‘C’ or an ‘S’ shape.
This is different to viewing a spine from the side where we expect to see the natural arches, or curves of the spine.
It is estimated that 2-3% of the population have scoliosis.
What Causes Scoliosis?
There are many different possible causes of scoliosis. The main types are discussed here.
This is the most common type of scoliosis. The word idiopathic comes from Greek, and means a condition or disease with no known cause. Although there are many theories, the exact cause of idiopathic scoliosis is not known.
It is estimated that 65% of cases of scoliosis are idiopathic. They rarely cause any obvious symptoms.
It is rare for this type of scoliosis to develop in children under 10 years of age, and it affects females more often than males.
Make up an estimated 15% of all cases of scoliosis, and are due to a bone abnormality present at birth. This form of curvature is often associated with congenital abnormalities in other body systems such as the heart and kidney.
The most common type of scoliosis that develops in adults. Degenerative Scoliosis is due to a change is the bone structure of the spine. This may be from surgery, arthritis, bone collapse as a result of osteoporosis or tumour; or gradual deterioration in the spine, discs, and facet joints.
A wide variety of diseases and disorders of the central nervous system (brain), nerves and muscles can, but not invariably, result in the development of Neuromuscular scoliosis.It is frequently seen in people with spina bifida and cerebral palsy.
We would like to add an extra type of scoliosis, one that is not found in medical literature, but widely seen.
This type of scoliosis is seen on most xrays. Whilst usually only observed as a slight/mild scoliosis, it is extremely common. It is due to dysfunction in the spine. Abnormal spinal motion and misalignments can lead to a change in the structure of the spine, often seen as a scoliosis. One leg shorter than the other will cause a pelvic tilt, resulting in scoliosis too.
Signs and Symptoms of Scoliosis.
Signs of scoliosis that are easily observed are:
- One shoulder higher than the other.
- A prominent shoulder blade.
- Uneven waist, or leaning to one side.
- Ribs more prominent on one side.
The definitive diagnosis of scoliosis is from an x-ray of the spine.
Children and teenagers with idiopathic scoliosis usually have no noticeable symptoms or pain. Often it will go unnoticed if the scoliosis is not obviously observable. Because scoliosis rarely causes back pain in children, if they are suffering back pain it needs to be investigated.
Severe scoliosis at any age can cause back pain and stiffness, and even neurological problems such as numbness or weakness in the legs. Breathing can be difficult if there is distortion of the rib cage as a result of thoracic (mid back) scoliosis.
Treatment for Scoliosis.
The medical approach for severe scoliosis includes bracing. Back braces can be fitted when the curve is 25 degrees or more, but less than 50 degrees.
Over 50 degrees of scoliosis curve would be a case for possible spinal surgery, where rods are inserted to straighten the spine.
Chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy both show good results for relieving mild to moderate cases of back pain from scoliosis. There is no evidence however that they can provide any benefit in preventing the progression of scoliosis. However, people with scoliosis should stay active and fit.
Exercises For Scoliosis Pain.
Most of the back pain from scoliosis is due to stress and strain on the spinal structures (joints, muscles, ligaments etc.) Try the following exercises if you have back pain from scoliosis.
1. Curl up into a ball. Spondylolisthesis is aggravated by spinal extension, so by pulling your knees to your chest, you are bringing your spine into a more flexed position. Start by lying on your back, them simply pull both of your knees to your chest and hold them there for 10-30 seconds.
2. Cat Stretch. Similar to curling up into a ball, cat stretches bring your spine into flexion. Start in a kneeling position, then sit back onto you feet. Stretch your arms out in front of you along the floor. Feel the stretch in your low back and hold for 10 seconds.
3. Back Arches. Often relief can be achieved by extending or arching the spine.
First off, try this in a standing position with your hands on your hips, and just gently arch backwards over your hands.
If you have any pain aggravation then do not do this exercise. If it is okay, after doing this for 2-3 days you can progress to doing extension exercises on the floor.
4. Back Extensions. Lie on your tummy, and gently lift your head and shoulders off the floor using your back muscles and propping your self up on your elbows for 10 seconds.
Begin this one very carefully and slowly as it can be a bit painful at the start.
These simple exercises can make a real difference if you are suffering with scoliosis in the spine. Give them a go and see if they help you out, but remember to just start slowly and gently! If this does not help you then I would recommend seeking professional advice.