A scoliosis is a lateral curve in the spine- that is one that you can see when looking at someone from behind. There may also be some rotation through the back. No one is totally symmetrical, and a mild scoliosis may cause little to no disruption. However a more significant one may lead to aches and pains.
There are two kinds of scoliosis. A structural one is the one that is more likely to receive intervention.
Here, the curve is caused by the spine itself. The vast majority of cases happen for no apparent reason as a person is growing. More rarely, the curves may be a side effect of another condition. The shape of the bones themselves causes the curves.
As the shape is constant, the muscles change in response. We find that the muscles on the concave side are shorter and therefore relatively tight. The muscles on the convex side may be overstretched and somewhat weak. These muscular asymmetries may be problematic in themselves, but we can work with you to manage this side of the condition. Sometimes there is also unusual strain through the diaphragm which can cause strange symptoms in the rest of the back as well as locally. We can help with this.
In contrast to above, this kind of curve is caused by an asymmetry below the back. As a result, the curve is not always there.
As the diagram shows, the back is straight when sitting, but it appears when standing. This may be due to having a slightly longer leg on one side, or habitual standing with one leg bent. Either case leads to an asymmetry at the base of the spine, which the body tries to correct further up. People with a functional scoliosis may find that their back and neck ache after long periods of standing or walking, but they improve with rest.
It is also possible to have a more significant curve when sitting or standing, for example if you keep something in your back pocket. Sitting on a wallet during your commute or in the office can have a considerable demand on the back as it tries to balance out above. Back and neck pain can even result from it.
A scoliosis will often develop in adolescence for no apparent reason. It can be measured from the results of an X-Ray, in which the angle of the curve will be calculated. For the most serious curves, surgery may be appropriate. The next step down is a brace to encourage the spine to grow straighter.
The most mild may be given some basic exercises or advice. We can build on these to try and manage pain and strengthen the surrounding muscles.
For adults, the curves will not be changing. Often a mild one is asymptomatic, as the body adapts as it develops. Sometimes it may be associated with overloading elsewhere- for example if the curve has caused upper back stiffness, the neck may have to compensate. Occasionally, we also see more significant scolioses in adults. Sometimes people find that osteopathy helps them to feel more mobile, which can be especially relieving if the curves and rotation have limited the ribcage’s ability to expand.
If you have a functional scoliosis, we may be able to help you stand straighter again. Perhaps an old knee injury has led you to keep one knee bent, or maybe your back just needs some help in adapting for a slightly longer leg. We will look at the body as a whole and work out a personalised plan for you.
If you suffer from the effects of a scoliosis, you can make an osteopathic appointment here.