Scoliosis 101: Symptoms, Treatment, and How to Improve Your Spine

2 young men facing backwards showing the difference of a normal spine to the one that has scoliosis

Living with scoliosis is not for the faint of heart. But as with anything, knowledge is power. Whether you are looking for information on exercises or using an inversion table for scoliosis, we have answers.

The more you know, the better equipped you are to work with your medical team for the best possible outcome.

Surgery isn't the only option:

There are a variety of ways you can treat scoliosis at home.

For example, using an inversion table for scoliosis and incorporating certain exercises into your daily routine.

Understanding what scoliosis is, how to recognize it, and what you can do about it will ease your mind more than anything else.

We're here to empower you and help you learn the facts.

Here's what you need to know about the condition itself, exercises that can help ease the pain, using an inversion table for scoliosis, and even some tips for getting a good night of sleep.

man suffering from back pain especially on the spine part of his back


What Is Scoliosis

Although you have probably heard the word scoliosis before, you may not really know what it is.

Scoliosis is a fancy word for a simple condition.

Let's break it down:

Put simply, scoliosis is when the spine curves in an abnormal way.

The spine is normally straight. But when you have scoliosis, the spine bends to the side.

One curve can form a "C" shape. Two curves can cause the spine to take on an "S" shape.

These curves can occur in any section of the spine.

Symptoms of Scoliosis

It easy to overlook scoliosis, especially if you don't know what the signs of this condition are.

Yes, doctors regularly check children to look for curvatures of the spine and many schools hold screenings as well.

However, parents should be aware of the signs too.

Here's why:

No one knows your child as well as you do. And you also spend more time looking at your child than anyone else.

So, it stands to reason that parents who are aware of the symptoms of scoliosis may be able to notice the signs earlier.

And the earlier scoliosis is diagnosed, the early you can begin treatment -- which increases the odds of a positive outcome.

Here's what to look for:

  • One shoulder blade is more prominent than the other
  • One hip sits higher than the other
  • One side of the rib cage sticks out further than the other
  • You may remember screenings in school, and they are simple enough that you can do them at home as well.

    Have your child stand with both feet together. Then have them bend forward at the waist. Doing this allows you to look at their spine and makes any curves easier to see.

    Causes of Scoliosis

    In the majority of cases, doctors have no idea what actually "causes" scoliosis.

    The condition often runs in families, which means that there is a hereditary component.

    But, not always, there's more:

    Other medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy, can also cause scoliosis. Congenital disabilities can also be connected to scoliosis.

    Scoliosis almost always begins in childhood, but injuries and infections can cause scoliosis to develop as well.

    When doctors diagnose the condition and cannot identify a cause, they call it "idiopathic" scoliosis. Most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic. In fact, 80 to 85 percent of scoliosis cases have no known cause.

    Risk factors

    The biggest risk factor for developing scoliosis is a family history of the condition.

    If scoliosis runs in your family, meaning that multiple relatives have this condition, you and your children are more likely to have abnormal curvatures of the spine than the general population.

    Remember though, family history does not guarantee scoliosis. Most cases are idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause.

    But there are other risk factors:

    It is also more likely for scoliosis to develop in childhood as the body is growing. However, in rare cases, adults can also develop spinal curves. But this is not the norm.

    And while both boys and girls are equally likely to develop scoliosis, girls are more at risk for severe curvatures than boys.

    Complications of Scoliosis

    As children with scoliosis grow, the curves in their spines can worsen. As the degree of the curve progresses, there are complications that can occur.

    One of the first complications that can occur, and often the most serious in the minds of self-conscious adolescents, is a change in appearance.

    As the curve worsens, the shoulders, hips, and ribs can become more noticeably deformed.

    But there's more:

    Not surprisingly, scoliosis can cause back pain. Adults who have scoliosis are likely to experience chronic pain as a result of the condition.

    For those with severe scoliosis, the stakes are even higher.

    The ribs protect the heart and lungs. And they also attach directly to the spine. As the spine curves, it pulls the ribs with it.

    In severe cases, this can compromise the function of the heart and lungs. When the ribs are pulled out of their correct position, they can put pressure on these vital organs.

    This pressure can make it harder to breathe and can also make it harder for the heart to pump blood through the body.

    • Congenital scoliosis -- a spinal curvature that is present at birth because the spine did not form correctly in the womb
    • Early onset scoliosis -- a spinal curvature that develops before the age of 10
    • Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis -- a curve that appears after puberty has begun but before the body is done growing
    • Degenerative scoliosis -- a curve in the spine that develops in adults due to the bones weakening with age
    • Neuromuscular scoliosis -- curves that develop in the spine because of an underlying a neurological or muscular condition, such as cerebral palsy
    • Scheuermann's kyphosis -- occurs when the vertebrae in the front of the spine develop faster than those in the back
    • Syndromic scoliosis -- curves that appear as part of another syndrome, such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome or trisomy 21, among others

    Types of Scoliosis

    The condition is classified according to when the spine begins to curve and what the underlying cause is, assuming a cause can be identified.

    There are seven types of scoliosis:

    In addition to the seven official types of scoliosis, this condition can also be classified according to the severity of the spinal curvature.

    Have a look:

    Mild, moderate, and severe scoliosis

    The severity of scoliosis is defined according to the degree of the curve or curves in the spine.

    As the degree of the curve increases, so do the symptoms that go along with it.

    It only makes sense:

    If the curve is it has a bigger impact on appearance. If the curve is worse, it is more likely to cause pain. And if the curve is worse, there is a bigger risk that it will affect heart and lung function.

    • Mild scoliosis -- 10 to 25 degrees
    • Moderate scoliosis -- 26 to 40 degrees
    • Severe scoliosis -- above 40 degrees

    When to See a Doctor

    If you notice any symptoms of scoliosis in your child, you should schedule an appointment with your pediatrician as soon as possible.

    Only a medical professional can diagnose scoliosis, and the sooner you begin treatment, the better.

    Children living with scoliosis will be monitored with x-rays to track the progression of their spinal curvatures.

    But remember this:

    If a child or adult with scoliosis notices an increase in any symptoms, such as pain or shortness of breath, contact a doctor right away.

    As with any medical condition, no symptoms should be ignored.

    Also, remember to contact a medical professional before you begin any new exercise regimens or decide to use an inversion table for scoliosis.

    How Scoliosis Is Treated

    A diagnosis of scoliosis does not automatically mean surgery.

    There are many other options:

    If the curve is less than 20 degrees, doctors will take a wait and see approach. They will take x-rays of the spine at regular intervals to monitor the severity.

    If the curve progresses beyond 20 degrees, treatment will be necessary.

    The treatment that you may be most familiar with is bracing. Back braces are used to try to prevent the curve from worsening.

    After growing has stopped, curves that are less than 30 degrees don't tend to get any worse.

    But on the other hand, curves that are greater than 50 degrees usually worsen by an average of one degree each year.

    For severe scoliosis, bracing may not be enough. Curves of 45 to 50 degrees or more will require surgery.

    But that's not all:

    Although bracing and surgery are the most common treatments, there are other things that can help.

    Physical therapy that uses exercises and stretches, as well as using an inversion table for scoliosis, can all be helpful.

    Some people also find relief from alternative treatments such as chiropractic care and acupuncture.

    massage therapist applying a hard massage on a man's lower shoulder


    Adult with Scoliosis

    While it is much rarer for adults to develop scoliosis, it does happen.

    And clearly, children with scoliosis grow up to be adults with scoliosis.

    Adults with scoliosis are more likely to live with chronic back pain than the general population for obvious reasons.

    But there is good news:

    There are many things you can do at home to ease the pain. Certain stretches and exercises can help with the pain that comes with this condition

    You can also use an inversion table for scoliosis treatment. And you can even do it at home.

    How to Use an Inversion Table for Scoliosis

    doctor analyzing the result of his patient's xray laboratory


    A new approach to treatment is using an inversion table for scoliosis.

    Using an inversion table for scoliosis involves hanging upside down -- or inverting the body.

    Here's how it works:

    By using an inversion table for scoliosis, you can reduce gravitational pressure on both the nerve roots and the discs of the spine.

    Being inverted also increases the space between the vertebrae in the spine. And using an inversion table for scoliosis can help relieve the pain of this condition.

    However, there are risks, and inversion therapy is not safe for people who have certain medical conditions.

    For example, inversion therapy can increase pressure in the eyes. For this reason, inversion therapy is not safe for people with glaucoma.

    Before beginning any new treatment, including using an inversion table for scoliosis, you should always talk to your doctor first.

    And in case you're wondering, yes, you can use an inversion table for scoliosis in children. But it is even more important to get the okay from your child's pediatrician first.

    10 Exercises to Treat Scoliosis at Home

    Using an inversion table for scoliosis isn't the only option you have for treating this condition at home.

    There are a variety of exercises you can do to relieve the pain that goes along with scoliosis and keep your body flexible.

    Here are 10 exercises to try:

    1. Bridging

    This exercise is simple to do and requires no equipment at all.

    Start by laying on the ground on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground, shoulder width apart.

    Next, lift your hips off the ground, hold for a few seconds, and then lower your hips back down to the floor.

    a person doing a yoga position to stretch and exercise his back


    2. Side crunch

    Lie on your back, Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.

    You can put your arms across your chest or put them behind your head to support your head. You can put them out straight in front of you, or pretty much anywhere that feels comfortable to you.

    There is no need to do a full sit-up, which can actually be harmful if you have back pain and scoliosis.

    You just need to raise your shoulders off the ground. Then squeeze your abdominal muscles as you move your chest side-to-side, reaching for your knees.

    woman doing side crunches to strengthen her bone muscles


    3. Bird dog

    Get onto all fours. Place your hands and knees shoulder width apart.

    Start with your back as flat as possible. Next, extend one arm, then the other. Follow by extending each leg in turn, one at a time.

    Once you are confident with this exercise, you can extend one arm and the opposite leg at the same time. So, start with your left arm and your right leg, then move on to your right arm and your left leg.

    three women doing yoga position called bird dog as guided by their instructor


    4. "T" stretch with an exercise ball

    Get onto your knees and rest your chest on the exercise ball.

    When you are ready, stretch both your arms out to your sides to form a T shape. Then, pull your arms up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together.

    woman doing leg stretch while leaning her back on a gym ball


    5. Back extension with an exercise ball

    Begin in the same position as you did for the last exercise, on your knees with the exercise ball supporting your upper body.

    Place your hands behind your head. Lean back, lifting your chest and arching your back.

    different colors of medicine or gym ball


    6. Side plank

    Lie on the ground on your side with your knees bent. Support your upper body on your elbow.

    Keep your spine as straight as possible. When you are ready, lift your hips off the ground. Use your elbow and knees to support your body.

    Hold and then lower yourself back onto the floor.

    woman doing planking exercise to strengthen her back muscles


    7. Standing side lean (with weight)

    You can use a can of vegetables or soup as a weight for this, so no special equipment is necessary.

    Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold your weight (can) in one hand, then lean to that side, letting the weight hang. Then raise yourself back up.

    Remember to keep your back as straight as possible.

    physiotherapy weight, training dumbbell and exercise balls are effective exercise equipment to exercise the whole body


    8. Bear hugs

    For this exercise, you will need a resistance band.

    Once again, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put the resistance band behind your lower back and hold one end in each hand.

    Then reach out as if you are going to give someone a bear hug. Bring your hands together and then return to your starting position.

    woman doing a bear hugs exercise by hugging a gym ball on her chest while standing straight


    9. Side squat with reach

    Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your feet are flat on the ground, and you are placing equal weight on each foot.

    Keeping your back straight, step to the side and squat down as you reach your arm out to the side. THen bring your arm and leg back in as you come out of the squat.

    2 persons doing squat exercise while standing on top of a wooden box


    10. Squat with reach

    For this exercise, you will stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then squat down (without stepping to the side this time).

    As you squat, reach your hand to the opposite knee. Then return to your starting position.

    When you feel confident enough, you can reach for your foot instead of your knee.

    Learning to do exercises properly just by reading instructions can be difficult. So make sure you also take a look at this video. It will walk you through each of the exercises.

    Sleeping with Scoliosis

    Scoliosis is one of those things that affects just about every aspect of your life. Even sleeping.

    In fact, how you sleep is particularly important if you have scoliosis.

    Here's why:

    While sleeping in the wrong position will not actually make the curve of your spine worse, it will make the symptoms you live with worse. Particularly your pain levels.

    People with scoliosis should never sleep on their stomachs. When you sleep in this position, you must turn your head to the side (because you have to breathe). This position twists and arches the spine.

    If you have scoliosis, you need to make sure that the spine is aligned and well supported throughout the night. For this reason, side sleeping can be one of the best positions to sleep in if you have scoliosis.

    Use pillows to support not only your head but your legs as well. Place a pillow between your knees to support your upper leg.

    You can also use rolled up towels to help support your neck and a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back.

    And don't forget the mattress. Make sure you choose one that will support you and works with whatever sleep position you prefer.

    In addition, keep in mind that you can use gravity to help stretch and pull the curves in your spine while you are sleeping.

    The best sleep position for you will depend on the exact curvatures of your spine. And unfortunately, like so many things, trial and error is the only way to figure out what works and what doesn't.

    Living Well with Scoliosis

    There is no way around it. Living with scoliosis is no one's idea of a good time. But that doesn't mean you have to suffer.

    Not only is it possible to live with scoliosis, but it is also possible to live well.

    Here's how:

    By understanding your condition, you can take control of your life and your treatment plan. With your newfound knowledge, you can work with your doctor to control your symptoms.

    And there are plenty of things you can do at home to find relief.

    By using exercises and an inversion table for scoliosis, along with making sure you are sleeping correctly, you can ease your pain and lead a fuller, happier life.

    Have you used any of these exercises or an inversion table for scoliosis? We'd love to hear about your experiences! Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

    About the author

    Steven D. Schiller -

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