For those who are diagnosed with scoliosis, the first question is almost always “can scoliosis be cured?”. Scoliosis is a complex condition – and so is the answer to this question, but this week we’ll try to make it easy to understand!
What is scoliosis anyway?
Before we can address the issue of a cure, we first need to properly understand the problem.
Scoliosis is a complex condition which consists of several issues occurring all at once. While a normal spine will appear straight when viewed from behind, in Scoliosis a 3-dimensional shift in the spine takes place, most notably causing a curvature to one side or the other, but it also tends to lead to rotation of the spine itself. Over time, scoliosis affects the balance of the body, leading to muscle imbalances, postural problems and issues with range of movement.
Scoliosis, especially in the early stages, can be hard to spot – scoliosis has typically progressed for some time before there are visual signs – however, once signs have appeared:
- From the back, the spine may have a C or S shape curve rather than that of a straight line, this can make the waistlines uneven or one shoulder lower than the other.
- From the side view, the normal spinal curves are often straightened, which makes the mid-back appear flat. Shoulder blades may be prominent.
- While looking from the head down to the feet, there is a rotation or twist which can cause ribs or one side of the lower back to appear humped or more prominent.
Scoliosis is typically divided into two main categories – adult, and childhood scoliosis. Adult scoliosis is caused either by the degeneration of spinal discs with age or as a result of childhood scoliosis which was not treated. Childhood scoliosis (affecting infants through to young adults) has several known causes, but in 80% of cases, the exact cause is unknown. This is termed “Idiopathic” scoliosis. The remaining 20% of cases are typically caused by congenital or genetic conditions, spinal malformations, underlying neuromuscular conditions, metabolic conditions or trauma.
Can Scoliosis be cured?
It’s important to be clear about what we mean when we talk about a “cure”. As we’ve described, scoliosis isn’t a single issue condition. Whereas something like a throat infection is unpleasant, it has a single root cause and once correctly identified it’s easy for your GP to provide you with some appropriate medication – over a couple of weeks you can expect your condition to have fully resolved, or been “cured”.
In most cases, the underlying cause of scoliosis is unknown – and in some which are known (such as de-novo scoliosis), the underlying cause (here ageing) cannot be cured, but can certainly be managed.
Let’s look at an example – In an idiopathic cases (which typically affects children and teenagers) an initial diagnosis typically involves an existing scoliotic curve, and often some pain or muscle weakness. It’s possible to correct the scoliotic curve using approaches such as modern “active” bracing, as long as it is caught soon enough. Muscle imbalances can be eliminated with appropriate physical therapy approaches, such as Schroth therapy, or Scoliosis specific exercise. Pain associated with scoliosis may be helped with complementary therapy such as massage in the short term, whereas evidence suggests that approaches such as bracing also reduce pain over the longer term.
In many ways then, the symptoms of scoliosis can be cured – however, ongoing treatment is required to prevent the scoliosis from returning, since the underlying condition itself cannot be fully overcome. This being said, once a patient has reached skeletal maturity, scoliosis progression typically halts, and any further development can be prevented with appropriate exercises.
So, overall, it is more realistic to say that while scoliosis cannot be fully “cured” it’s entirely possible for the patient to live the rest of their life “scoliosis free” – as long as the curve is caught early enough to be corrected.
Scoliosis requires ongoing monitoring.
One of the most notable aspects of scoliosis is its tendency to develop at a varying pace – and with a fairly unpredictable rate of progression, so it’s critical for anyone who has been diagnosed with scoliosis to continue to be monitored, at least until they reach skeletal maturity. Modern approaches to treatment do have a very high success rate, and research is now helping us to understand how we can best avoid any reduction in curve correction after a treatment plan has concluded but ongoing monitoring is the simple and effective way to address any problems which may develop along the way to skeletal maturity.
At the UK Scoliosis Clinic, we’re keen to ensure all of our patients feel supported right from their initial consultation, through to skeletal maturity.
 ‘A population-based cohort study of 394,401 children followed for 10 years exhibits sustained effectiveness of scoliosis screening’
Fong DY, Cheung KM, Wong YW, Wan YY, Lee CF, Lam TP, Cheng JC, Ng BK, Luk KD, Spine J. 2015 May 1;15(5):825-33. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.01.019. Epub 2015 Jan 20.
 Scoliosis bracing and exercise for pain management in adults—a case report
Weiss et al, J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 Aug; 28(8): 2404–2407.
 Fabio Zaina et al. Specific exercises performed in the period of brace weaning can avoid loss of correction in Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS) patients: Winner of SOSORT’s 2008 Award for Best Clinical Paper, Scoliosis 2009, 4:8