Functional vs. Structural Scoliosis
- Posted on: Feb 23 2021
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature and rotation of the spine from side to side. It is different from the natural curves of the spine which occur forward to backwards, giving the spine its “S” shaped curve. Scoliosis can often develop for no reason and causes pain by altering a person’s posture and putting certain muscles in a stretched position and others in a shortened, tight position. A person with scoliosis might have uneven hips or shoulders in normal standing due to the lateral curve of the spine.
The most common type of scoliosis is known as structural scoliosis which is an actual structural change to the spine. This often develops in adolescence while a person’s body is growing and changing and is more common in young girls. Structural scoliosis can also come on later in life as the joints in the spine begin to degenerate. Neuromuscular disorders which cause significant muscle weakness can also lead to structural changes to the spine and increase the likelihood of scoliosis. Structural curves are fixed, nonflexible and fail to correct with forward bending. Although these curves may be fixed, treatments such as physical therapy can still help to reduce pain and improve posture to allow the patient to participate more fully in their daily activities and go about their day with less pain.
Non-structural or functional curves are not fixed, are flexible, and correct with forward bending. With functional scoliosis, the spine is structurally normal and only appears to have a lateral curve. This can be caused by a leg length discrepancy, muscle spasms pulling the spine into one direction, or inflammatory conditions. Once the underlying condition is identified, treatment is tailored to this underlying cause and no direct treatment to the spine is needed. Functional scoliosis can be reversed and curves can normalize with treatment.
In addition to identifying the type of scoliosis and finding the underlying cause of the functional curve, beneficial treatment techniques include therapeutic exercise aimed at core strengthening, postural correction, stretching shortened or tight muscles, and achieving symmetrical strength throughout the hips and shoulders. Manual interventions addressing shortened/tight muscles and providing modalities for pain relief can also be beneficial for patients with scoliosis. If you or a loved one believe you may have scoliosis come in to one of our locations to be evaluated by a physical therapist!
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