Chiropractic Treatment for Scoliosis
Understanding Your Spine
Before we discuss Scoliosis in more detail, let’s take a quick recap on the spine to better understand it’s function, form, and the otherwise “normal” operation of your backbone:
Your spine is your body’s internal support structure that is made up of vertebrae bones, disks, nerves, and your spinal cord. It is a critical component of the human body that allows you to stand up straight, maintain good posture, and be flexible.
The spine is made up of three main sections with a total of 24 individual vertebrae (bones):
- the cervical spine refers to the neck area, which has 7 vertebrae
- the thoracic spine (upper and middle back) has 12 vertebrae
- the lumbar spine (lower back) has 5 vertebrae
Each vertebrae bone has a hole in the center to form a canal for your spinal cord, forming your central nervous system through nerves and cells that extend from the lower portion of your brain to your lower back. Intervertebral disks fit in between each vertebrae bone to provide cushioning support for each vertebra which also acts as a weight-bearing source for the spine.
When viewed from the side (lateral view), a normal spine has a natural S-shaped curve (or curvature). These soft or subtle curves in your spine allow for movement flexibility, the even distribution of weight, assisting you with standing, sitting, bending, and twisting, and even helping your body to evenly distribute stress.
The normal S-shape curvature of the spine includes:
- 2 forward curves referred to as normal lordosis (in the neck and lower back)
- 2 backward curves referred to as normal kyphosis (in the chest and hips)
When viewing a normal spine from the rear (posterior view), the spine would appear vertically straight from the neck to the tailbone, with no apparent spinal curvature.
It’s important for the vertebrae in your spine to be aligned so that your body can maintain a healthy posture with natural curves, providing natural support and stability for your body and its functions.
With that in mind, let’s unpack scoliosis…
Introduction to Scoliosis
Scoliosis occurs when the spine has an abnormal sideways curve (or curves) to the left or right of your spine when viewing the spine from the rear (posterior) view. This can have a negative effect on your breathing and movement, significantly contribute to back pain and neck pain, and generally decrease your quality of life.
While a combination of genetic and environmental factors may be attributed to the medical condition, the specific cause or causes of scoliosis is most often unknown. The largest category of scoliosis is referred to as Idiopathic scoliosis, referring to cases without a definite cause, and which usually first appear in children between the age of 8 and 10 years. Curvature of the spine is considered as scoliosis when the curvature exceeds an angle of more than 10 degrees.
There are several types or forms of scoliosis, with Idiopathic Scoliosis (for where there is no identifiable cause), being the most common.
This category can be further categorized as:
- Infantile idiopathic scoliosis: developing in babies from birth to 3 years old
- Juvenile idiopathic scoliosis: developing in toddlers from 4 to 9 years old
- Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: developing in teenagers from 10 to 18 years old
- Adult idiopathic scoliosis: developing in adults from 18 years and older
Congenital Scoliosis, while rare, occurs in developing babies still in the womb. Vertebrae that fail to divide properly or that are incomplete may cause the spine to curve unnaturally. This may lead to a worsening curvature over time, and doctors may only diagnose the condition when the child is in their early teens.
Neuromuscular Scoliosis may be caused by a spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy, or a disorder such as cerebral palsy, where damage to the surrounding muscles result in the spine not being correctly supported in the scoliosis patient.
Degenerative Scoliosis typically develops in the lower back of adults, as the disks and joints of the spine deteriorate with age.
The condition is not always clearly noticeable, and cases can range from mild to severe where the most noticeable symptoms are:
- One shoulder blade appears more raised than the other, resulting in uneven shoulders
- One hip appears higher than the other, or protrudes outwards resulting in uneven hips
- One side of the ribs, or the rib cage protrudes outwards
- A visible sideways curve in your back when looking at the spine from the rear
- Difficulty walking or standing up straight
- Feeling tired
- Back pain
- Numbness, weakness, or pain in the legs
- Difficulty breathing, due to a reduced area in the chest for the lungs to function correctly
- Feeling full quickly after eating, due to your spine putting pressure on your stomach
Considering that the condition typically worsens over time, those who are in the early stages and those with mild curvature(s) may not yet experience any significant symptoms. For the same reason, and if new patients are experiencing back pain or any of the other symptoms of scoliosis, it is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible.
A doctor has several diagnosis options available and will likely start with screening and a physical exam of the spine to determine the extent of the curvature. The physical exam will include a natural observation of the back while the patient is standing with their arms at their sides to identify spine curvature and symmetry of the waist and shoulders.
A doctor may ask the patient to bend forward as far as possible, something known as the Adams forward bend test, to identify curvature prominence or other physical scoliosis symptoms.
When scoliosis is suspected, a doctor’s next step will be to recommend imaging to determine the extent of the curvature using a measurement known as the Cobb Angle. The Cobb Angle is obtained via radiographic X-ray and determines the severity of curvature according to mild, moderate, severe, or very-severe scoliosis. A doctor may also recommend an MRI to rule out the possibility of other causes.
Treatment of Scoliosis
It is important to mention that scoliosis treatment depends on several factors, and that the condition is not necessarily curable. Luckily and in most cases, treatment is not necessary as the degree of curvature is considered “mild”, typically between 10 and 25 degrees. If there is a curve between 25 and 40 degrees and the bones are still growing, doctors and healthcare professionals may recommend bracing. A brace will help to prevent further curvature and is one of the most common treatment options, but it will not cure or reverse scoliosis.
Some of the other symptoms caused by scoliosis that are not as easy to visibly identify include:
If the curve degree is greater than this, doctors and healthcare professionals may recommend surgery.
There are several treatment options available, but because each scoliotic spine presents its own challenges, treatment plans are often unique to each patient.
Chiropractic Treatment for Scoliosis
A case study from 2011 shows that chiropractic treatment was effective for almost 80% of the participating patients who were suffering from scoliosis. Improvements were recorded in Cobb angle, pain scores, spirometry, and disability rating in the patients who followed the program for approximately 6 months, and the results were maintained in the follow-ups, 24 months later.
Chiropractic care may be considered as an alternative treatment for scoliosis, as a chiropractor may perform spinal manipulations and may recommend treatments and exercises to help with pain relief attributed to scoliosis.
A chiro can improve the patient’s quality of life by creating a personal program that works towards realigning the spine, but it’s important to remember that visits to the chiropractor won’t cure scoliosis, or necessarily reverse the curvature of the spine.
In other words, while the condition itself is not technically curable, chiropractic care can absolutely help to treat scoliosis and provide significant relief from the symptoms.
Your chiropractor can greatly improve your overall quality of life by improving your movement, flexibility, spine function, and posture. This is done through a combination of massages and soft tissue therapy, chiropractic adjustments, scoliosis-specific stretches, and exercises. These proactive and preventative measures all work in combination to adjust and improve your joint mobility, while minimizing the long-term effects and impact of scoliosis. Your chiropractor may also provide a referral for doctors and other medical practitioners to further investigate the condition of your scoliosis.
Dr Matt le Roux is a highly skilled chiropractor with over a decade of experience and extensive knowledge of the spine, muscles, joints, bones, and tissues. As a chiro, he has worked with a wide variety of concerns ranging from acute and chronic pain to more complex injuries and conditions such as scoliosis. Matt uses a functional and personal approach to the management of pain, and provides patients with a comprehensive, tailored plan to boost your overall quality of life through nutritional, lifestyle, and performance enhancements.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from scoliosis, or that your children are showing early symptoms, don’t delay in contacting Matt for an appointment where he can help you identify the next steps.
The best thing you can do to manage the long-term effects of scoliosis is to start treatment as soon as possible.
Matt is ready to assist, and you can book an online appointment at the click of a button.
Frequently Asked Questions:
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