June 9th, 2011

June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month, so I thought I would take a step away from the technique blogs to talk about a problem that affects 5 to 7 million Americans.

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a condition of side to side curvature of the spine.  It most commonly affects the thoracic spine, which is the section of your spine that has ribs, but can also just as easily happen anywhere in the spine and can be accompanied by abnormal front to back and rotational curves.  Symptoms from these curves can range anywhere from mild discomfort and deformity to serious problems with the cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal tract.  Most cases of scoliosis (estimated at up to 80%) have no known cause and as such are referred to as ‘idiopathic.’  This type of scoliosis can begin at nearly any age but is most often first noticed in adolescent girls from age 10-15.

What causes it?

As I stated earlier, the exact cause of the common type of scoliosis (Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis – AIS) has not been figured out.  Genetics are thought to play a large role in the development of these types of spinal curves, but the general consensus is that this condition is multi-factorial in nature and studies have noted things like abnormal distribution of position sensing nerves and varying muscle fiber types as factors involved in the onset and progression of the disease.

What can be done about scoliosis?

If you suspect that you, or your child might have scoliosis the most important thing that can be done is seeing a doctor.  Having a screening done by a qualified medical or chiropractic professional can be crucial in determining the seriousness of the curve and treatment options.  Screenings will usually consist of a detailed history and physical exam with an emphasis on posture and a scoliometer reading.  After the initial exam, x-rays will often be taken and used to calculate the degree of the curve.

Depending on the magnitude of the curve found through x-ray, and the presence of any risk factors for curve progression found in the exam, a patient is usually given three options:

Watchful waiting:

This is the most common approach taken.  Most curves (around 4 out of 5) are less than 20 degrees and do not progress beyond that. Curves of that type seldom cause serious complications, but none the less should be monitored for progression and worsening of symptoms.


If caught early enough, specially designed spinal braces can be used to correct and decrease the progression of curves.  There are a wide variety of options available for patients based on their individual needs.


Curves over a certain degree, with the presence of severe symptoms are generally referred for orthopedic consultation and surgery.   Typical procedures include spinal fusions and insertion of rods and other supports to correct the scoliosis.

Alongside these treatments, a chiropractic treatment plan that integrates specific exercises for the patient as well as manipulation and other soft tissue therapies can help patients cope with some of the symptoms of scoliosis and even improve the curve in some cases.

The implications of scoliosis go well beyond medical concerns.  The deformity can lead to diminshed self-esteem and other psychological issues due to teasing and isolation from peers.  It can also lead to a decreased ability to perform activities and can leave sufferers at risk for a whole host of other conditions related to a sedentary lifestyle.  The symptoms of the condition are manageable, but need to be detected early and monitored closely to give the patient the best possible outcome.  If you have any questions about scoliosis visit the National Scoliosis Foundation website, or schedule a screening with a qualified chiropractor like myself if you are near Denver or another medical professional near you.

As always, be well.