What You Need to Know about Scoliosis

Despite the fact that it’s a fairly common problem — affecting about 5 percent of children and adolescents and about 2 percent to 3 percent of the general population — the causes of scoliosis still aren’t well-understood. It’s a lifelong spinal condition that results from the spine becoming “off center” and growing sideways, so it winds up curving in the shape of an “S” or “C” and causing a lot of back pain.

Unfortunately, when many patients get a diagnosis of scoliosis from their doctors, they’re told it’s “idiopathic,” meaning the cause isn’t entirely known and therefore treatment can be very difficult. 

For decades, it was somewhat of a mysterious disease and thought of as a difficult problem to help treat. While there’s no definitive cure for scoliosis, what we’ve learned in recent years is that the way best to reduce symptoms and stop it from progressing is to address its underlying cause, eradicating the spinal problem that’s formed at its root. Bracing techniques, anti-inflammatory prescription medications and spinal fusion surgery might be the norm still today and can help ease pain and symptoms, but unfortunately they come with risks and don’t fully address what’s happening below the surface.

While there still isn’t a complete cure for scoliosis even with natural treatments, some people can see improvements from 10 percent to 30 percent within just several months when undergoing chiropractic adjustments and using targeted spinal exercises. Most importantly, these treatments can also help stop the spinal curvature from further progressing and therefore prevent unnecessary surgeries that cannot be reversed once performed.

Signs and Symptoms of Scoliosis

Symptoms commonly appear during adolescent years, especially during the growth spurt around the time of puberty, but older adults with back pains can be diagnosed with scoliosis for the first time too.

What does scoliosis look like and feel like in the body? Some of the most common signs and symptoms include: 

  • Pain in the back (up to 90 percent of scoliosis patients report feeling pain, which is the most primary concern for many patients)
  • A leaning of the entire body toward one side
  • One shoulder blade is higher than the other
  • One hip seems to be raised compared to the other
  • An uneven waistline
  • The head is off-center above the shoulders and might not appear directly above the pelvis or midline
  • The spine appears to be growing sideways and developing into an “S” shape or a “C” shape (research shows that S-shaped curves tend to worsen more often than do C-shaped curves, and curves located in the center thoracic section of the spine worsen more often than do curves in the upper or lower sections)
  • Loss of balance
  • Accelerated aging of spinal discs
  • Decreased lung volume

Facts About Scoliosis: Prevalence, Risk Facts and Complications

  • Scoliosis is the No. 1 spinal problem affecting school-aged children. The primary age of onset and diagnoses is between 10–15 years old.
  • Many patients and their concerned families are given one of three treatment options: either “wait and watch” the spine for progression, use bracing, or undergo surgery — all of which come with drawbacks.
  • Each year scoliosis patients make more than 600,000 visits to private physician offices. An estimated 30,000 children are put into spinal braces to help treat the condition, while 38,000 patients undergo spinal fusion surgery.
  • Complications can occur when muscles and tissues of the body become deformed by months or even years of the body compensating for abnormal twisting and bending of the spine. These complications can continue even after bracing or surgery.
  • Aside from affecting good posture, scoliosis can negatively impact quality of life, cause pain, impair normal lung functions, disturb sleep, and reduce the ability to exercise and live normally. 

How Does Scoliosis Develop?

Scoliosis is essentially one symptom of a deeper biological problem. It results in mechanical dysfunction of the spine, although the degree to which this occurs and exactly how it impacts the spine’s curvature and alignment differs from one patient to another. While scoliosis treatment approaches work best when they’re customized and take into account the patient’s unique history, there are several things that seem to work well for the majority of patients:

  • receiving chiropractic care
  • improving diet
  • practicing targeted spinal exercises

Scoliosis patients can experience a wide range of symptoms and severity depending on how much the disease has progressed; basically no two patients have the exact same spinal alignment, degree of damage, bone density or spine curvature. Many people show some signs of abnormal spinal alignment, but doctors don’t usually worry about this unless the curvature of the spine is off by more than 10 degrees.

On average, people with scoliosis suffer a 14-year reduction in their life expectancy, due to strain on the heart and reduced amount of oxygen supplied to the body.  Scoliosis is also associated with lung impairments, headaches, shortness of breath, digestive problems, chronic disease, and hip, knee and leg pains.

What Causes Scoliosis?

Over the years, there’s been a lot of theories thrown around, but we know scoliosis patients usually have several things in common: 

  • Eating a poor diet, having low nutrient intake (especially magnesium deficiency or low vitamin D and vitamin K)
  • Poor posture
  • Delayed puberty and hormonal problems in teens (a form of low estrogen, hyperestrogenism)
  • For women, being post-menopausal or having low estrogen levels (hypoestrogenism), since estrogen plays an important part in building bone density
  • Having a low body weight, not eating enough calories to sustain a healthy body mass
  • Being a competitive or elite athlete, which can sometimes contribute to low body weight, weak bones and nutrient deficiencies
  • Having a genetic predisposition that affects bones and spinal health (scoliosis runs in families, and certain mutated genes seem to up the risk for inherited forms of scoliosis)

When it comes to having a predisposition to diseases, it’s important to remember that our genes aren’t our fate! This is so important, I'm going to say it again. Genes Do Not Decide Your Fate!!  There’s a lot we can do to help offset hereditary factors that make us more susceptible to developing any diseases, including scoliosis. For example, a healthy diet can essentially help balance our nutrient levels and can help turn on or off certain genes that affect our growth and development.

Treating Scoliosis Naturally

Over the past few decades, we have come to learn that “watching and waiting,” spinal bracing and surgeries to correct scoliosis are not always effective and usually are risky. Recently, studies have shown that chiropractic, in combination with deep tissue massage can have significant, positive results in people with scoliosis.

There are some notable problems with the most standard treatment options in some cases:

  • A 2007 study found that 23 percent of patients who wore a brace still ended up undergoing spinal fusion surgery in comparison to 22 percent of patients who did nothing.
  • Bracing is commonly emotionally scarring, especially for children and adolescents who deal with higher rates of body image issues, pain, skin and bone problems, and impairment of normal functions. Some considered the experience to have left a psychological scar.
  • Whether spinal bracing helps stop progression or not, the benefits are lost once the brace is removed, and surgery is still commonly needed.
  • Spinal surgery can cause permanent inflexibility and loss of certain functions, even disabling and difficulty sitting, standing, carrying, bending at the waist, participating in sports, lying on backs or sides, lifting, performing household chores, and driving a car.

Chiropractic Care Can Help Treat Scoliosis

To help stop scoliosis from progressing, I recommend seeking help from a chiropractic physician who’s trained in structural correction and targeted spinal exercises.

Unlike surgery or bracing, reductions in the Cobb Angle of the spine achieved through chiropractic adjustments is also correlated with decreased scoliosis complications and pain, along with improved lung function, physical functioning and better quality of life overall. Chiropractic care also poses less risks in terms of causing permanent damage, give the patients the opportunity to help treat their own conditions, tend to cost less than traditional treatments, and expose the patients to far less harmful radiation from recording X-rays.

To treat scoliosis, it's best to start with checking out the alignment of the spine. We work to directly treat the causes on the scoliosis and not just the symptoms of it. Give us a call at 303-776-6767 to get your Scoliosis consolation set up and see for yourself the benefits chiropractic care can bring! 

Thank you Dr. Axe for this Article!