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Understanding Scoliosis: From Diagnosis to Management and the Role of Osteopathy

A scoliosis is a lateral curve in the spine, either C-shaped or S-shaped. Most people have some degree of scoliosis, often mild enough to be completely asymptomatic. Addressing this condition requires a comprehensive understanding, from its initial diagnosis to various management strategies. This article delves into the causes, symptoms, treatments, and particularly how osteopathy can offer relief.

Spine curve

The Basics of Scoliosis

At its core, scoliosis is distinguished by either structural or non-structural spinal curves, with varying implications on health and mobility. While its occurrence spans across various age groups, the reasons behind its development are still subject to ongoing research, blending genetics, environmental factors, and more. Demystifying common myths, such as the belief that heavy backpacks or poor posture being primary causes, is crucial in understanding this complex condition.

Recognizing and Diagnosing Scoliosis

Identifying scoliosis typically involves noticing physical irregularities, such as uneven shoulders or a prominent ribcage. These physical manifestations often carry emotional and psychological impacts, underlining the importance of early and accurate detection. Screenings, like the Adam's Forward Bend Test, along with imaging techniques like X-rays and MRI, play pivotal roles in diagnosis.

The Journey of Treatment

Scoliosis treatment varies, encompassing both non-surgical (like bracing and physical therapy) and surgical options. The choice of treatment depends largely on the type of scoliosis, its severity, and the patient's overall health. New and emerging treatments continually add to the landscape of options available, offering hope for better outcomes.

Daily Challenges and Adult Scoliosis

Living with scoliosis extends beyond medical treatment. It affects daily activities, lifestyle choices, and mental health. Adolescents, particularly, face unique social and emotional challenges, requiring support from family and caregivers. In adults, scoliosis often presents differently, with a focus on managing pain and maintaining quality of life rather than correcting spinal curvature.

Osteopathy: A Complementary Approach

Osteopathy revolves around the principle of aiding the body's natural healing process. Osteopathic practitioners use techniques including soft tissue stretching and gentle pressure to alleviate pain, enhance mobility, and improve posture. Not only does osteopathy offer a non-invasive approach to managing scoliosis, but it also complements other treatments, making it a valuable ally in the journey towards spinal health and wellbeing.

Osteopathy's role in managing scoliosis extends beyond symptom relief. By focusing on overall body mechanics, it offers a holistic perspective in spinal health, emphasizing non-invasive techniques that support the body's inherent ability to heal and maintain balance. For patients with scoliosis, integrating osteopathy with conventional treatments can lead to more comprehensive management, emphasizing pain relief, improved functional mobility, and better quality of life.

What Causes a Scoliosis?

Most scolioses develop for no apparent reason during adolescence. Treatment may entail:

  1. Conservative treatment, such as manual therapies and exercise

  2. A brace

  3. Surgery

The aim of these treatments is to minimise the effect and development of the scoliosis. Your osteopath would work with the body to ensure that any adaptations that are made are as well tolerated as possible.

For scolioses like this, they typically stop developing by the time the skeleton is matured at around the age of 25. Scolioses that associated with osteoporosis, rheumatological conditions, or trauma are more likely to change later on in life.

Osteopathic Support

A scoliosis is not just about the lateral curves, there is usually a degree of rotation too. These two changes affect not only the spine, but the ribs, shoulders, and muscles too. The body wants to keep the eyes and ears level, so if the base of the neck is not level, the rest of the neck will accommodate. These kinds of compensations can be uncomfortable, which is where we may be able to help.

Once the bones have matured, the scoliosis will not be undone. So for comfort, it is imperative that the rest of the body can adapt around it. As the upper back is often involved, breathing can be affected. We can work with the body to maximise the mobility of the ribs, joints around the chest, shoulders, and diaphragm. Where the lower back is affected, we will work to keep neighbouring areas moving as well as possible. This allows the demand to be spread more evenly throughout the body.

A Functional Scoliosis

Sometimes the curves come and go. This means that the cause is not the structure of the spine, so it is called “functional”. This kind of scoliosis is typically present when standing, but disappears when sitting or laying down. An uneven base can be the cause, typically due to one leg being shorter than the other.

Curved spine

This type of scoliosis might be particularly uncomfortable when you have to spend a lot of time on your feet. Where there is a leg length discrepancy, there is an unequal demand on the joints of the foot and leg too. You are more likely to weight-bear on the shorter leg and have the other bent, meaning there is more tension through the knee cap on the longer leg, and more pressure on the shorter leg’s foot. This might lead to things like patellofemoral pain (or “jumper’s knee”) or plantar fasciitis.

Your osteopath will assess your body as a whole to identify these risk factors. While helping to manage the immediate effects of the scoliosis, we will look to anticipate and prevent other associated issues. You can expect hands on treatment alongside a comprehensive exercise plan where appropriate.


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