Scoliosis is the presence of an abnormal sideways curvature in the spine and can range from a
mild deviation to a severe condition. The sideway curvature often starts during puberty when a
growth spurt leads to one side of the body being slightly stronger, shorter or used more often
than the other side. The reason why some people will get a scoliosis compared to others, is
mostly unknown. Developmental delays, seen in people with cerebral palsy or muscular
dystrophies, will often have scoliosis. This is due to differences in muscular forces working on
the spine, or asymmetrical postures.
There are two main types of scoliosis, namely functional scoliosis and structural scoliosis.
● Functional scoliosis is when there is a sideways curvature in the spine as a result of
asymmetry elsewhere, for example when a person doesn’t want to put weight on one of
their legs due to pain.
● Structural scoliosis is when the sideways curvature of the spine is due to internal
vertebral changes. Long term leg length discrepancies, muscle spasms, or spinal
pathologies can lead to this type of scoliosis.
● Functional scoliosis will normalise when a person bends forward or lies down, while
structural scoliosis is always present in any position.
● Structural scoliosis can worsen and is often associated with rotation in the spine as well.
Symptoms of scoliosis:
● If the scoliosis is mild, it might be symptom-free
● One shoulder is higher than the other
● Clothes seem to fit unevenly
● Parents or friends might notice the curve when observing the spine
● Walking asymmetrically, might notice one hand brushes against the side more often than
● Spinal stiffness: decreased movement of the back, one side can bend or rotate further
than the other side.
● Stiffness in the chest/ ribcage, leading the difficulties breathing (this is due to the ribs
attaching onto the spine)
● Pain in the spine or ribs (or abdomen if organs are involved)
● In severe cases the changes of the ribs can lead to heart problems
● Other symptoms: anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, due to potential limitations of this
Your physiotherapist can assess your spine and determine if your scoliosis is functional or
structural, and will give you advice on further options specific to you and your needs.
Physiotherapy can provide good outcomes to improve symptoms associated with scoliosis and
will equip you with techniques and exercises that you can continue with at home.