What Is Scoliosis? Basics of Spinal Curvature

Scoliosis is a medical condition that leads to a 3-dimensional curvature of the spine. The most common type of scoliosis is Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis, or AIS. It impacts around 3% of the adolescent population worldwide, and in Canada alone, this equates to 120,000 to 180,000 teens.

Many adults also have scoliosis, whether the spinal curve developed during adolescence or later in life.

These numbers highlight the significance of scoliosis as a health issue among Canadians and the need for awareness, early detection, and appropriate management or treatment strategies. By understanding scoliosis better, you can better navigate the condition, whether it affects you personally or someone you know.


What Is Scoliosis?

To better understand this health condition, it’s crucial to dig into its core characteristics.

First, imagine someone’s spine from the back. In an average person, the spine is predominantly straight from this vantage point.

In contrast, individuals with scoliosis exhibit a curved spine that curves to the left or right, forming a C or S shape. The degree of this spinal curvature can range widely; some may have subtle deviations that go largely unnoticed, while others may endure pronounced curvature of the spine that significantly alters posture

Whether a spinal curve is slight or significant, this sideways deviation defines scoliosis. It’s essential to differentiate scoliosis from normal spinal curvatures, such as the subtle inward and outward curves seen from the side view of a healthy spine. Scoliosis specifically pertains to abnormal spinal curves seen from a frontal or rear view.


Who Can Be Affected by Scoliosis?

Many people are diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis as a teenager, especially between the ages of 10 and 15. Curves are more likely to progress in females [2]. 

Scoliosis doesn’t just affect children; adults can also suffer from this condition. If you’re an adult with scoliosis, you likely fall into three categories [3]:

  1. Surgeons treated your scoliosis with surgery in childhood or during your teenage years.
  2. You had scoliosis in your younger years but didn’t receive the necessary treatment.
  3. You have degenerative scoliosis, a type of scoliosis that develops in adulthood as a result of age-related changes in the spine.


What Causes Scoliosis?

In many cases, we don’t exactly know what causes scoliosis. When there’s no apparent reason, it’s called idiopathic scoliosis. However, some factors can play a role:

  • Family history: If someone in your family has scoliosis, you might be more likely to have it too.
  • Other health conditions: Some medical issues, like neurological or soft tissue conditions, can lead to scoliosis.
  • Age and wear: Adults can develop scoliosis as their spine changes with age.

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Recognizing Scoliosis Symptoms & Signs

Scoliosis presents in a wide range of ways. Some of the most common scoliosis signs to be aware of include:

  • Uneven shoulders, causing clothes to hang askew
  • One shoulder blade is more pronounced than the other
  • A hip higher than its counterpart
  • Asymmetrical rib cage contours, especially noticeable when bending forward
  • Back pain
  • Difficult breathing or shortness of breath
  • Misalignment of the head over the pelvis
  • Skin changes over the spine, like dimples, hair patches, or colour differences
  • A general lean towards one side of the body

For some individuals, scoliosis is hardly noticeable, but it can be more prominent and cause discomfort for others.


How Is Scoliosis Treated?

Treatment depends on how severe the spinal curve is, how old you are, and whether your spine is still growing. 

The first thing to do is to get correctly diagnosed. Before looking over treatment options, you should work with a professional to get a complete diagnosis and decide on the best management and treatment plan based on your unique situation. Diagnosis should include investigating your personal and family medical history, completing a full physical examination, and taking x-rays.



Depending on the factors we mentioned above, here are some of the most common treatment options for scoliosis:

  • Watch and Wait: This was common advice in the past; however, research shows that earlier treatment can lead to better outcomes. If you or your child has been diagnosed with spinal curvature, schedule a consultation with a scoliosis-trained therapist who can create an ideal treatment and monitoring plan for you as soon as possible
  • Go to Physical Therapy: Scoliosis-specific exercise approaches such as the Schroth Method aim to strengthen the muscles supporting your spine to slow curve progression.
  • Get a Brace: A spinal brace may be recommended if you’re still growing to prevent further curve progression.
  • Undergo Surgery: In severe cases, you may need to consider surgery to correct the curve.


The Importance of Catching It Early

Getting diagnosed with scoliosis early can make a big difference in treatment. That’s why screenings are so important, especially for children going through big growth stages. The sooner scoliosis is spotted, the easier it is to manage.


Get the Help You Need on Your Health Journey

Scoliosis might seem daunting, but with today’s knowledge and treatments, many people with scoliosis lead active, fulfilling lives. Understanding scoliosis, spotting it early, and getting the proper treatment can help manage the condition effectively.

The ScoliClinic is dedicated to offering comprehensive care that addresses the physical needs and acknowledges the emotional experience of individuals living with scoliosis. Our diverse team, including scoliosis-trained physiotherapists, registered massage therapists (RMTs), and client coordinators, is united in supporting you on your journey. 

We are committed to fulfilling our mission by providing specialized scoliosis services that are of the highest quality. These services include physical therapy, massage treatments, educational resources, and supporting research efforts. We want to change the landscape of conservative scoliosis management in BC so those affected with scoliosis can lead healthy, active lives.

Chat with us today so we can support you with any of your scoliosis needs.

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