Helping with Spine Health – Scoliosis

Written by Ceri Ann Jones
The rule of three struck this week in the clinic, three patients with scoliosis had appointments on three successive days and three separate scoliosis stories came to my attention.
However there was a reason; the visits coincided with a bit of sunshine. As Brits we have to take advantage of the sun whenever it decides to shine and with that comes strappy tops and backless vests. Which makes it a great time of the year to spot scoliosis – especially for vigilant mums and dads who may not often get to see their teenager’s torsos.
This coincidence made me think of the distinct possibility that the universe was loudly suggesting I should write a blog on scoliosis!
What is scoliosis?

  • Google definition ‘an abnormal curvature of the spine’
  • The curve can make the spine have an s or a c shape instead of being straight.
  • Scoliosis can be non-structural where there are no changes to the bones spine or
  • Structural scoliosis had permanent bony changes forming the curve
  • Spinal curves are measured in degrees
  • X-rays are used to diagnose and measure the amount of spinal curvature

There are several types of scoliosis [1] the most common being

  • Idiopathic – of no known cause

Commonly affects girls between 10 and early teens and can run in families.
Other, less common, types are –

  • Degenerative – changes to the bones from varying reasons – trauma, operations, illness or osteoporosis.
  • Congenital – being born with a curve in your spine
  • Neuromuscular – from abnormal muscles or nerves

Problems arise within the younger age group as their spines are still developing and the curve may progress. In these cases three main treatment options are suggested

  • Observation
  • Bracing
  • Surgery

With cases of mild curves no major medical intervention is required. Patients may require hands on treatment to help with keeping them functioning well and out of pain.
But what does that mean to us? Well the spine works best with all vertebrae stacked in good alignment with all segments moving correctly any curve or twist will place incorrect forces through the body leading to pain and reduction in function and importantly can change the appearance of the body dramatically.
scoliosis 1scoliosis 2
Image courtesy of Wikipedia and Irishtimberwolf
So what are the signs that we should look out for? The British scoliosis Society [2] checklist

  • Rib cage sticking out on one side especially at the back
  • Shoulders not being level
  • Hip or waist sticking out
  • Head tilting over to one side of your trunk
  • Clothes not fitting well anymore
  • Not being able to stand up straight
  • Pain may be present as well as the changes above

A simple test that can be used to screen for scoliosis is Adam’s forward bend test. The individual is asked to bend forward at the hip and any unevenness of the back is assessed. In presence of scoliosis a ‘rib hump’ will be more prominent on one side. There are clips online to give you ideas on screening [3]
scoliosis 3scoliosis 4
Images courtesy of Wikimedia commons – Diagnosis of scoliosis with Adam’s test                                                                  (
So during these wonderful sunny days be on the lookout for any signs and don’t hesitate to get them checked out by a professional.
If you do have a diagnosis of scoliosis have a read of these people in the public eye who have scoliosis.
The first story I became aware of was of the swimmer Jessica Ashwood. Jessica is an Australian two time Olympian who competed, amongst numerous other international competitions, in London 2012 and this year in Rio, winning a silver medal in the Women’s 4x200m freestyle relay. Even though Jessica has ‘severe scoliosis’ (Swim Swim, 2016)[4] she has refused spinal surgery and rods to keep her spine straight as this would have stopped her swimming career. Her scoliosis is reported to affect her swimming to the point that she sometimes swims crooked, and cannot run or do any land activities such as weightlifting or running on dry land (Swim Swim). Ashwood and her coach have developed a stroke technique that both balances her imbalanced strength and her body position in the water attributing this to her success. See the wonderful clip of Jessica on Youtube – truly inspiring.
Princess Eugene’s the third female inline to the British throne gave an interview to Harpers Bazaar (Sep, 2016) about her scoliosis and stated ‘I have metal rods in my back keeping me straight. I was born with scoliosis and had an operation when I was 12. Those rods live with me permanently.’
Our final celebrity of whom I wasn’t aware to have scoliosis the world record holder and double gold medal winner in the 100m and 200m sprint at the current Olympic games in Rio – Usain Bolt. In an interview with ESPN The Magazine, Dec 2012.

  1. You’ve been diagnosed with scoliosis. How has that affected your training?
    A. ‘When I was younger it wasn’t really a problem. But you grow and it gets worse. My spine’s really curved bad [makes “S” shape with finger]. But if I keep my core and back strong, the scoliosis doesn’t really bother me. So I don’t have to worry about it as long as I work hard. The early part of my career, when we didn’t really know much about it, it really hampered me because I got injured every year.’

Wise words from experience – keep your back strong to avoid injury J
Much respect to these wonderfully inspiring people.
Further reading

  1. Scoliosis: What you Need to Know
  2. British scoliosis society website
  3. Youtube – Postural screening exam
  4. Read the full article on Jessica Ashwood online at –