What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a condition that affects the normal shape of the spine changing a person’s overall trunk alignment and posture. Scoliosis causes the spine to move to the side and turn. This condition can occur at any age but is more commonly detected during adolescence. Scoliosis is more common in females and can range from mild to severe, requiring a variety of treatments. Adults can also have scoliosis that was not detected in their younger years.

Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) is the most common type of scoliosis diagnosed in children aged 10 – 18 years. There is often no known cause but often there is a family history of the condition. Other causes can include congenital scoliosis and neuromuscular scoliosis.

Adult scoliosis falls into 2 categories: (1) those diagnosed with AIS as teens and now have fixed, mature bone structures and (2) those with degenerative changes in the spine resulting in a recently acquired spinal curvature.

How does it feel?

AIS is usually pain-free, but pain can occur as the spine curves abnormally stress the surrounding muscles and joints. Pain symptoms are more common in adult scoliosis. Changes in the spine alter a person’s alignment and movement patterns and create muscle imbalance. Common findings in a person with scoliosis include:

  • Uneven shoulder height
  • Uneven hip height
  • An uneven waistline
  • An awareness that the 2 sides of the body don’t line up
  • Pain in the areas surrounding the spine including the shoulder, pelvis, and hip
  • Pain with specific movement or activity.
  • Uneven alignment of the ribs when bending forward

How is it diagnosed?

Scoliosis can be detected during a physical exam or screening. Our physical therapist performs an evaluation and screening which includes inspection of the spine in addition to posture and movement checks. If there are findings the individual will be referred to a family doctor or orthopedic surgeon as an X-ray is needed to confirm a diagnosis of scoliosis.

How can our Physical Therapists Help?

The treatment for scoliosis can include physical therapy, bracing, and surgery depending on the severity of scoliosis. Physical therapy can provide care during any of these phases of scoliosis treatment. Our therapists offer a variety of specialized training and certifications in orthopedic physical therapy and in specific scoliosis treatment programs and will work with you or your child to develop an individualized program to address the type and severity of scoliosis as well as the patient’s goals. Some clinics have Schroth Method-certified clinicians, please contact your local clinic to find out about the specific treatment options they offer.

Our Physical therapy program will include:

  • Range of motion and flexibility exercises to prevent limitations in joints or muscles that can cause movement limitations
  • Strength training to strengthen muscles surrounding the spine and other parts of the body that may be weakened due to the spinal curves
  • Manual therapy including hands-on treatment to restore motion to the joints and the muscle tissue and to reduce pain
  • Functional Movement training to assess movement patterns and will provide retraining for optimal spinal alignment and movement patterns
  • Education to the family and patient on scoliosis, the effects on the body and your home program of exercise and care


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