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Diagnosing Scoliosis: Common Symptoms and Treatments

By Emily Lockhart

Scoliosis affects approximately five out of every 1,000 people worldwide. This long-term, chronic disease causes an abnormal curvature of the spine. Typically, the spine will curve to one side rather than forming a straight line down the middle of your back. This abnormal spine formation is due to the vertebra twisting around one another in a stacked corkscrew manner.

Even though most of us have a spine with a natural curve; those with scoliosis have a spine that curves too much–forming an exaggerated “C” or “S” shape—when they turn to the side. Scoliosis usually affects children—with those 3-years old and under experiencing infantile scoliosis, children 4 to 10-years old developing juvenile scoliosis, and those age 11 to 18- years afflicted by adolescent scoliosis.  And for some unexplainable reason girls are prone to scoliosis more than boys.

Here are the most common symptoms of scoliosis as well as treatments for this chronic spinal condition…

Back Pain

For most scoliosis patients, the disease is not severely painful, only troublesome. However, in some cases, scoliosis can produce back pain, particularly in the low back. If you do experience intense back pain, talk to your doctor you may have another underlying condition.

Abnormal Curve of the Spine

The primary telltale sign of scoliosis is the development of an abnormal curvature of the spine. This transition usually takes place very gradually, and it may be a far removed friend of family member who notices as they don’t see you every day. The exaggerated curve of the spine is easy to overlook until it becomes very pronounced.

Off-Center Head Position

Scoliosis may cause the head to appear crooked or out of kilter. The position of the head typically becomes unstable, gradually, over time as the corkscrew pattern of the vertebrae begins to overlap and the spine becomes more distorted.

Uneven Hips and Shoulders

In addition to the head becoming off center, scoliosis patients may also experience changes in the placement of their hips or shoulders. For instance, one hip or shoulder may sit higher than the opposite, and throwing off the balanced appearance of the entire upper body.

Crooked Ribcage

The unevenness of scoliosis may also originate in the ribs. This typically occurs in scoliosis patients with exaggerated curvatures of the spine (i.e., a distinct C-shape or S-shaped spine). This may throw off the balance of the rib cage so that your ribs appear skewed when looking at the body straight on.

Ill Fitting Clothing

Children affected with scoliosis may also notice that their clothing becomes ill fitting as the curvature of the spine becomes more pronounced.  You may notice the changes in your spine initially when you put on your clothes. Shirt arms and pant legs seem longer on one side or lopsided.

Chest Pressure and Pain

If scoliosis is very pronounced, causing that extreme C- or S-curve in the spine—you may feel pressure on your chest, heart, and lungs. As the disease progresses, the pressure may become so severe that the lungs become compressed and don’t operate sufficiently, resulting in shortness of breath and even chest pain.

Prone to Fatigue

With symptoms like back pain, which can come on if you’re standing or sitting for long periods of time, you may experience fatigue, particularly if maintaining a standing or seated position calls for excessive trunk (chest and abdominal) support. You may also lose sleep if your spinal distortion compresses the heart or lungs, causing them to work harder.

Rolling Gait

Patients with scoliosis typically walk with a rolling gait. This distinctive roll from side to side when walking or moving often becomes very pronounced in the later stages of the disease due to the distortion of the spine and hips.

Potential Scoliosis Treatments

Most scoliosis patients will not undergo treatment if the condition isn’t causing terrible pain or impacting quality of life. However, for severe scoliosis cases, the common treatments may include the following:

Back braces—are commonly prescribed if the child is still growing to prevent the further curvature of the spine. Adjustable back braces are the most commonly utilized so they can be adjusted as the child grows.

Scoliosis surgery—can be recommended to correct severe spinal curvature. The surgery entails inserting metal rods with hooks into the bones to hold the spine in proper alignment. The rods are left intact until the bones heal and then removed.

Physical therapy—may be used to teach exercises and techniques, as well as employ massage therapy, to help encourage corrective spinal alignment. Physical therapy treatments may also be applied in collaboration with a back brace or following scoliosis surgery.

Emily Lockhart


Emily Lockhart is a certified yoga instructor and personal trainer. She believes that being healthy is a lifestyle choice, not a punishment or temporary fix to attain a desired fitness or body image goal. Anna helps her clients take responsibility for their own health and wellness through her classes and articles on ActiveBeat.



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