Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. Everyone’s spine curves a little bit, but people that suffer from scoliosis have a spine that curves too much, often times resembling the letter “C” or “S”.
A person’s back is naturally supposed to have curves in the spine, but these curves go out and in rather than side to side. If you were to look at your spine from the side, you should see that it curves out at the neck, in at the mid-back, then out again at the low back. People with scoliosis differ because their spines curve sideways.
There are different types of scoliosis. The most common type of scoliosis, idiopathic scoliosis, makes up about 80% of the people who suffer from this condition. This type of scoliosis means that is occurs with unknown causes. Congenital scoliosis occurs in utero which means that a child is born with this condition. In neuromuscular scoliosis, children with a neuromuscular disorder such as muscular dystrophy can develop scoliosis because they have a weak trunk and cannot support the weight of their bodies. Lastly, when scoliosis goes unnoticed or untreated during childhood, the scoliosis can cause problems later in adult life. Degenerative or age-related changes to the spine can also cause scoliosis in adults. Osteoporosis, disc degeneration, a spinal compression fracture, or a combination of these problems can contribute to the development of adult scoliosis.
The signs and symptoms of scoliosis may include uneven shoulders, one shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other, an uneven waist, or one hip that is higher than the other. If a scoliosis curve gets worse, the spine will also rotate or twist, in addition to curving side to side. This causes the ribs on one side of the body to stick out farther than on the other side. Severe scoliosis can cause back pain and difficulty breathing.
A doctor can make a diagnosis of scoliosis just by doing an x-ray. This diagnostic test can also reveal the severity of a spinal curvature.
Scoliosis can often be helped by physical therapy. Your physical therapist can provide exercise programs and additional therapies to address pain and the muscular imbalance that can be associated with spinal abnormalities. They can also teach you breathing methods that will cause the ribs to help rotate the spine.