The human spine is made up of 24 interlinking bones called vertebrae. The spinal column is the body's main upright support. When viewed from the side, the spine forms three curves, much like an ‘s’ shape: The neck (cervical spine) curves slightly inward, the middle back (thoracic spine) curves outward, and the low back (lumbar spine) also curves inward. When viewed from the back, the vertebrae should form a straight column keeping the head centred over the body.
When a person has scoliosis, they have a sideways curve that makes the spine look tilted when viewed from the back. Scoliosis tends to develop in late childhood. Approximately 50% of the population have mild scoliosis, which is painless, does not worsen and does not need treatment. Severe scoliosis however, is a painful and debilitating condition that tends to worsen with age. Severe scoliosis can lead to constant back pain, breathing difficulties if the ribcage is compressed, injury to the heart and lungs caused by deformities of the ribcage, problems with pregnancy because of the increased load on the already compromised spine and an increased risk of osteoporosis in later life. Scoliosis is diagnosed by using x-rays and careful physical examination.
Sometimes it is not known why a scoliosis develops. This is termed idiopathic. There can be a hereditary factor and it is more common in girls than in boys.
Treatment of scoliosis can vary from physical mobilisation and exercise management, to braces. All patients with scoliosis can benefit from doing exercises that strengthen and stretch the muscles along the spine. If possible this should be commenced while the spine is still developing, which can slow the progression of the scoliosis curve and reduce difficulties later in life. Practicing correct posture is extremely important. A person who is accustomed to a curved spine may have the sensation of being crooked when first taught to properly align the spine. Practicing in front of a mirror helps this significantly.
Chat to our Physios or Exercise Physiologist, Nat, to advise the best exercises, improve posture and advance your program. Doing incorrect exercises or using too much weight could make a scoliosis worse or cause compensatory pain.