Signs and Symptoms of Scoliosis:
Treating the Condition

Dr. Clayton J Stitzel
Factually accurate & verified by
Dr. Aatif Siddiqui
Last updated on
October 15, 2018

Although idiopathic means "unknown cause," we have learned that scoliosis stems from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. It causes the brain to react abnormally to spinal alignment, typically during adolescence and most often in girls.

A Spinal Curve is One of Many Scoliosis Symptoms, Not the Condition

You may think that scoliosis is simply a spinal curve, but the curve is just one of many signs and symptoms of idiopathic scoliosis. Understanding this helps us treat the cause of scoliosis progression, rather than the symptom.

Although idiopathic means "unknown cause," we have learned that scoliosis stems from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. It causes the brain to react abnormally to spinal alignment, typically during adolescence and most often in girls.

Normally, the brain tells the body how to align with gravity and stand straight as it grows. Spinal posture is an automatic neurological response in most children. The brain centers that control spinal posture send messages to your child's muscles telling them to keep the spine straight. This is how a baby learns to stand and balance.

Other Signs of Scoliosis: Pain and Restricted Breathing

The brain doesn't send those normal messages when your child has idiopathic scoliosis. We often detect the curvature of the spine during rapid growth spurts because that's when the miscommunication becomes obvious. Environmental triggers activate your child's genetic predisposition to scoliosis and unleash a cascade of events. We notice the spinal curve because it's the primary sign, but other signs and symptoms of scoliosis include:

  • Pain
  • Depression
  • Lower quality of life
  • Restricted breathing
  • Limited physical activity
  • Decreased social functioning

A child with a scoliosis curve measuring as little as 10 degrees may experience any of these symptoms or may only have a curved spine. Pain and other symptoms tend to worsen as the curve increases, especially after it reaches 30 degrees.

Looking Beyond the Visible Signs

When the brain fails to properly control the spine's position, scoliosis patients take on a forward-head posture as they start to lose some of the curve in their necks. The ribcage twists while the spine's normal curve flattens. Viewed from the front or side, the spine looks flat where it's normally curved. Viewed from the top down, it looks twisted when it normally wouldn't.

The scoliosis posture has five primary hallmarks visible even in the early stages of mild idiopathic scoliosis. These include:

  • Tilted eye line
  • One shoulder hangs higher than the other
  • One shoulder blade sticks out more than the other
  • One hip appears higher or more pronounced than the other
  • One side of the rib cage appears higher than the other
  • Mid-ear not aligned with the tip of the shoulder when viewed from the side
  • Center of eyes not aligned horizontally with the center of hips
  • The body tilts to one side
  • One leg appears shorter than the other
  • Ribs stick out when a child does a full forward bend

The problem with most scoliosis treatments, primarily bracing and surgery is that they focus on addressing the visible symptoms of scoliosis — the curve — by forcing the spine into a normal configuration. But because the brain continues to misfire, these methods fail to halt the progression of scoliosis.

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When Treatment Becomes the Problem

In fact, they can worsen your child's condition. Common scoliosis treatments have not only proven ineffective at providing any lasting corrective benefits, but they often introduce pain where previously there was none.

Braces, aside from provoking discomfort, cause your child's muscles to atrophy when what they really need is to grow stronger. Without enough movement, the joints around the spine can develop other degenerative problems. Constricted lungs struggle for air, and ribs buckle under the stress. All this can lead to headaches, anxiety, sleep problems, and cognitive dysfunction.

Surgery, while reserved for the most severe cases, brings complications of its own. Spinal fusion, the surgical method used to correct scoliosis, often leads to a lifetime of chronic pain. One study found that scoliosis surgery fails to improve the quality of life for patients. Another study discovered that 40 percent of surgery patients became severely handicapped within 17 years — all for a treatment that's typically cosmetic in nature, almost never medically necessary, and offers no long-term benefits.

Treating the curve causes more problems than it solves. That's why the most effective solution isn't to correct the spine but to correct the brain itself. Unfortunately, during the time when the brain is most susceptible to retraining — the early stages of scoliosis — most doctors adopt a wait-and-see approach. This allows the curve to worsen when proper treatment of the underlying condition could have not only stopped progression in its tracks but reduced the size of the curve for good.

Treating the Condition, Not Just the Curve

Scoliosis' impact on your child's quality of life is our primary concern at ScoliSMART Clinics®. The scoliosis curve is a cosmetic symptom that's rarely life threatening in children older than five. That's why ScoliSMART™ treatment programs do not include bracing or surgery, which decrease quality of life and have poor long-term success. Retraining the brain to override the neuromuscular dysfunction is more important than just reducing your child's curve. Plus, it's the only way to stop scoliosis progression.

The ScoliSMART™ treatment programs are not the norm, yet. Traditionally, doctors will advise you to monitor your child's curve if it's less than 25 degrees, use a scoliosis brace if it's 25 to 45 degrees, and get surgery if it's over 45 degrees. Bracing and surgery can reduce curvature for a time, but they both cause increased symptoms, pain, and long-term complications. These outdated methods don't correct the cause of scoliosis; they only treat the curve. Scoliosis continues to progress after bracing and surgery.

If your child has recent signs of scoliosis symptoms or has been struggling with the symptoms of this condition for years, we can help. ScoliSMART™ exercises retrain the brain to communicate properly with your child's muscles. Our program decreases spine rigidity and creates subconscious muscle memories so your child never needs a brace or surgery.

Need more information about the ScoliSMART Approach?

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Meet the ScoliSMART Doctors

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Dr. Clayton J Stitzel

Dr. Clayton J. Stitzel

Dr. Mark Morningstar

Dr. Mark Morningstar

Dr. Brian T Dovorany

Dr. Brian T. Dovorany

Dr. Aatif Siddiqui

Dr. Aatif Siddiqui