Scoliosis is an abnormal lateral (sideways) curve of the spine. It changes the way load is distributed through your spine. It can impact the way you move, stand and cause some muscles to tighten up and others the become long and stretched out. In severe cases it can even affect your lungs and heart. It usually occurs with a growth spurt during puberty however the exact reason as to why it occurs is unclear. (1)
I have curves in my spine - does that mean I have scoliosis?
This is a common misnomer of Scoliosis. You are meant to have four curves in your spine. These can be seen when you are standing on your side. Scoliosis on the other hand can be seen when you are looking at someone from behind. Normal spinal curves occurs in your neck, upper back, lower back and sacrum (a triangular bone that attaches into your pelvis). Where as scoliosis goes from side to side. Often if someone doesn't have great posture these normal curves can become more or less prominent, however this is not a form of scoliosis.
The normal curves help to evenly distribute the weight of your body through each of the joints of your spine to avoid joint degeneration and injury.
Structural vs Functional Scoliosis
There are 2 types of scoliosis, Structural and Functional:
Structural Scoliosis is the most common type of scoliosis. As well as the side to side curvature, structural scoliosis involves rotation of the spine. This type of scoliosis is permanent as it affects the structure of the spine. It will not straighten out on its own.
Functional Scoliosis is a result of temporary imbalances in the body. The structure of the spine remains normal even if there is some sideways curvature of the spine. Some of the causes of functional scoliosis include differences in leg lengths, inflammation or pain on one side of the spine which makes a person want to lean away from the affected side, muscle spasms/tightness or muscle weakness.
The easiest way to recognise if it is a structural or functional scoliosis is to get a scan. Structural will show up where as functional will not. However a simple test is to bend down and touch your toes. A structural scoliosis will maintain it's shape where as a functional scoliosis will tend to disappear. This is because the structure of the spine is not affected with functional scoliosis.
Common Problems associated with Scoliosis
Shortened muscles on the concave side of the spinal curve and lengthened, often weak muscles on the convex side.
Poor range of motion through areas of the spine due the the structural changes to it.
Degeneration to the spine as load is distributed unevenly through it.
Elevation of your shoulder & altered joint function on the side of the curve
Uneven hip heights and associated tightness in leg muscles as they compensate to try to keep the eyes level with the horizon.
Additional Side affects is other joints such as hips and shoulders due to the different distribution of load caused by the scoliosis.
Altered lung/heart functionin severe cases of structural scoliosis
Yes! There are a number of ways that massage can help both structural and functional scoliosis.
Structural Scoliosis: Unfortunately those changes to your spine's structure mean that that curve isn't going anywhere. However we can help to improve the range of motion that you do have, identify areas of muscle weakness that need to be addressed and help with muscles that will be shortened due to the nature of your scoliosis. Unfortunately because there is a change in the shape of your spine you are predisposed to degeneration in joints and muscle stiffness. That is why it is so important to have maintenance massage for conditions like scoliosis.
What we do:
A lot of what we do with Structural Scoliosis is the prevention and management of symptoms as they arise and improvement the range of motion through out your joints.
We perform a thorough assessment so we understand the severity of your scoliosis, any surgery you have had to correct it and what additional areas of your body that may be affected by it.
We create a tailored treatment plan based on our findings to help improve your range of motion and/or relieve tightness.
When necessary we discuss your case with your physio or additional allied health professionals to make sure you are getting a team approach. We also may make recommendations to see additional health professionals that can help to manage your symptoms and work on your management plan.
We make recommendations for stretches or exercises to help maintain your joint mobility or strengthen muscles that are weak.
Common areas we find we need to help you with are:
Neck Pain and tightness- Neck pain is common due to the changes in range of motion lower down in your body as well as the spinal curve itself. A number of the muscles in your upper back attach into your neck which means that a curve lower down in your thoracic spine can impact your neck. The distribution of load through your neck and upper back may change due to your scoliosis this can lead to joint degeneration, disc and nerve related problems. That is why it is important to monitor symptoms and have a management plan. If you have had spinal surgery to correct a scoliosis significant areas of your body do't move any more which mean that the areas that do will wear out quicker. That is why it is so important have a management plan for scoliosis especially if you have had corrective surgery.
Your shoulder muscles - dependent on the nature of the scoliosis one shoulder is usually elevated and pulled forward. We work to lengthen muscles like your pecs and your traps and levator scap that are affected by the change in shoulder position. This changes the was your humerus (upper arm bone) moves in your shoulder joint which can lead to shoulder problems.
Your thoracic muscles and joints - because of the nature of scoliosis and the change in distribution of load through your spine we find that your thoracic spine and muscles stiffen up. We aim to loosen these up and improve the movement through the area to prevent injury and help your spine function more effectively.
Lower Back Pain- Lower Back Problems are common with scoliosis because of the change in distribution of load through your spine. Your lumbar area (lower back) is the most common area that we see degenerative disc conditions, joint degeneration and nerve irritation. This is before you have a significant change in the shape of your spine associated with scoliosis. We aim to help this area move more effectively, loosen off tight muscles that can cause you pain and help identify areas of weakness which can reduce the risk of injury.
Management of structural scoliosis is a multifaceted process and one we are passionate about. Obviously the symptoms above are all dependent on the severity of your scoliosis and any corrective spinal surgery. Our goal is to create a plan of attack specific to you and keep you pain, tightness and injury free.
Functional scoliosis is all about identify the underlying cause for your curve and addressing it. Leg length discrepancies, changes in the position of your pelvis, tight and/weak muscles can all lead to a functional scoliosis. the key is to identify them and create a plan of attack to help.
Initially we look to identify if we are dealing with a structural or functional scoliosis. We perform a thorough assessment, look at any reports or scan you might have and have a discussion about your symptoms.
We perform a thorough assessment to determine the severity of your symptoms and identify a possible underlying cause.
We create a plan of attack and have a discussion with you about the best way forward. This might include bringing on additional allied health professionals to your health team that can help you improve faster.
Similarly to structural scoliosis we will talk to you about any take home exercise and stretches that we recommend.
Our goal at Just Knead It is to create the most tailored experience possible and get you pain and tightness free as quickly as possible. If you have a structural or function scoliosis and would like some help managing it or identifying why it might be there in the first place, if it's a functional scoliosis give us a call or book in online.