Updated: Jan 22
Around 3 million new cases of scoliosis are diagnosed every year in the U.S. While many people live full and happy lives with scoliosis, for some people it can cause both pain and disability. In severe cases, spinal fusion surgery may be needed. Most often, surgery is the chosen option because of how much scoliosis interferes with the patient's life and not because of the curve in the spine worsening. A chiropractor can help to limit the negative impact of scoliosis on your life and help you to avoid the need for surgery.
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is defined as "an abnormal curvature of the spine". The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae that run from the base of the spine up to the skull. All spines curve front to back, with a dent in the lower back and a slight hunch at the shoulders. For people with scoliosis, the spine also curves from left to right.
The vast majority of scoliosis cases are diagnosed around the time of puberty and have no obvious cause. This is known as "idiopathic scoliosis". Scoliosis can also be caused by a birth defect, especially spina bifida, or by certain conditions, such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. When scoliosis is diagnosed in older adults, it is usually caused by osteoarthritis that degenerates the vertebrae in the spine.
How is scoliosis treated?
There are three main treatment approaches for scoliosis, depending on the severity of the curve, which is measured by the Cobb angle. To be diagnosed with scoliosis, you need to have a Cobb angle of at least 10 degrees. If it is 15-20 degrees, you will usually be treated with observation and some exercise. If it is 20-40 degrees, a brace may be suggested as well as rehabilitation. If it is 40-50 degrees, surgery may be an option.
How a chiropractor can help with scoliosis
A chiropractor may not be able to reduce the Cobb angle of your spine but they can help to improve its function and mobility, help to strengthen the surrounding muscles and joints, and help to lower your pain levels. Because of the strain the spinal curve has on other structures in the body, especially the hips and shoulders, a chiropractor will likely treat these areas as well.
You will usually receive a combination of massage, an exercise program that can help to strengthen muscles that support the spine, scoliosis-specific stretches, gentle scoliosis-specific spinal adjustments, and advice about positions that can help to relieve your pain. With the aid of a chiropractor, your Cobb angle is also unlikely to worsen.
Visiting a chiropractor for scoliosis treatment can help you to have a better quality of life and avoid the need for surgery. A chiropractic scoliosis treatment plan will have two main aims: to improve your mobility and to reduce your pain. If both of these aims are achieved, you should be able to live more easily and comfortably with scoliosis, without the curve in your spine worsening.