Fitness · Health

Detecting and Treating Scoliosis, Part I


A) An adolescent with thoracic idiopathic scoliosis on the right side.
B) Her rib prominence is more obvious when bending forward.
C) This x-ray of her spine clearly shows the right thoracic curve.

Images A to C are examples of S-shaped right thoracic curve with bending forward and rib hump (Source: Scoliosis Research Society)

Detecting Scoliosis  Scoliosis is present in approximately 2 to 3 percent of the U.S. population, which is similar to rates in other countries such as Greece (nearly 2 percent). Scoliosis is most commonly detected in adolescence, usually around 12 to 13 years old, and is more common in females. This type of scoliosis is known as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), and may be the most common type of spinal deformity; it is certainly the most common type of scoliosis (approximately 80 percent). “Idiopathic” means that there is no known cause. Although the cause is unknown, genetics do influence the likelihood of not only developing scoliosis but also increase the chance of developing a progressive scoliosis that may require more extensive medical treatment. CHD7 was the first gene discovered that was linked to idiopathic scoliosis. Having a relative with scoliosis may increase the likelihood of developing scoliosis by twofold. Therefore, if you have a child with scoliosis, your other children should be closely monitored for the development of the condition.

Once scoliosis is identified, it is very important that health care practitioners determine if the scoliosis is functional or structural. These are two general categories of scoliosis. Functional (also known as non-structural) scoliosis occurs in a structurally normal spine that develops a lateral curvature as a result of a separate cause, such as one leg’s being shorter than the other (“leg length discrepancy”), or muscle spasm due to various causes like a lumbar disc herniation. Functional scoliosis is potentially reversible if the cause can be identified and treated. Structural scoliosis isn’t reversible, and is often referred to as a “stiff curvature,” but through treatment it may be possible to prevent worsening of the curvature. AIS is the most common type of structural scoliosis, and once the condition is identified, it will be monitored. Treatment will depend on the severity and/or progression of the spinal curve(s), especially around the time of growth spurts. If the curvature progresses beyond 25 degrees, then bracing is often utilized, and if greater than 50 degrees, surgery is considered.

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  • Susanna Gaertner January 12, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    This is a problem I commonly see in my practice as well as in my own body. Pilates can be very beneficial in minor cases by strengthening the spinal muscles as well as the rib muscles (serratus anterior) that feed into it.
    While my scoliosis is visible on X-rays, it is not visible to the naked eye and I have no pain. I hope that your readers will explore this often helpful modality.

    • mary griffin July 8, 2021 at 1:55 pm

      Just discovered your organization in researching my recently diagnosed scoliosis (C shaped, over 25-degree curvature). I’m looking forward to your newsletter and any recommendations for treatment, exercise programs, such as Pilates, rowing machine. Thank you.