Managing Scoliosis with PT

Caitlin Hard
Caitlin Hard Executive Assistant at AHS

June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month!

You may have heard the term “Scoliosis” used by someone you know used to describe a health condition related to their spine. Why is this condition so commonly mentioned in everyday discourse? It may have to do with the fact that as much as 3% of the general population, roughly 6-9 million cases in the U.S. alone, suffer from Scoliosis during their lifetime.1-4

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a medical condition that is characterized by abnormal curvature of the spine. In most cases, Scoliosis results in the spine turning from side-to-side and leads to overall trunk misalignment and poor posture1,2.

Who does it affect?

Scoliosis is a relatively common condition that affects 2-3% of the general population.1-4 Scoliosis affects individuals of all age groups, but is most often diagnosed during adolescence; The most common type of scoliosis, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), affects children aged 10-18 years.1 According to The National Scoliosis Foundation, “the primary age of onset for scoliosis is 10-15 years old, occurring equally among both genders. [However], females are eight times more likely to progress a curve magnitude that requires treatment.”4

What causes Scoliosis?

Approximately 80% of scoliosis cases are idiopathic, meaning that no identifiable cause is known.4 The remaining twenty percent of cases are due to congenital or neuromuscular problems.1,2,4

Congenital scoliosis– caused by vertebral deformities created during a child’s early development in the womb. Because these bone deformities are present at birth, this type of scoliosis is normally detected very early on in life.

Neuromuscular scoliosis– scoliosis that is secondary to a medical condition of the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. This type of scoliosis generally progresses more rapidly than idiopathic scoliosis and often requires surgical treatment.

Signs & Symptoms?1,2,4

 -uneven shoulder height (one or both shoulder blades “stick out”)

-uneven hip height

-rib cages are at different heights

-uneven waistline

-appearance or texture of skin on the spine is inconsistent (dimples, hairy patches, abnormal color)

-back, shoulder, pelvis and/or hip pain

-abnormal movement or posture

-general feeling of misalignment across both sides of the body


What are the treatment options?

 Scoliosis cases can range from mild to very severe. The range in severity of the condition allows for a wide range of treatment options. For mild scoliosis cases, more conservative treatment options such as observation or bracing are recommended. On the other hand, severe cases of scoliosis may require surgery. Luckily, physical therapists can provide care during several phases of scoliosis treatment including muscle strengthening and posture education, bracing, therapeutic treatment, and post-surgical rehabilitation.

Why is PT beneficial?1,2

 Physical therapists work in conjunction with medical professionals such as orthopedic surgeons, and general physicians to diagnose and treat scoliosis using a multifaceted approach.

During an initial examination with a physical therapist, they will review your medical history, evaluate your posture, measure your strength and flexibility, and create an individualized treatment plan based on your metrics and the severity of your scoliosis.  A scoliosis treatment plan may include any of the following therapy techniques:1,2,4

Range of Motion Exercises– Your physical therapist will evaluate any movement limitations, and will guide you through stretches and motion exercises to restore normal movement.

Strength Training – Your physical therapist will guide you through exercises that can help strengthen muscles surrounding your spine, as well as your overall trunk strength to increase functional movement.

Posture Education/Functional Training– Physical therapists are very knowledgeable about how different types of scoliosis, and varied affected vertebral areas can cause various functional difficulties. They can advise you on the proper positioning for your specific scoliosis case, which can help relieve daily pain and improve functional movement.

Manual Therapy – Physical therapists are also skilled at using their hands and special tools to massage, release, and re-train muscles and soft tissues that are affected by scoliosis.

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