The spine’s natural curves make it stronger, more flexible, and better able to absorb and distribute mechanical stress. There are a number of spinal conditions that involve a loss of the spine’s healthy curves. When the spine’s natural curves are compromised, it becomes misaligned, disrupting its overall health, biomechanics, and function, not to mention the body’s overall symmetry.
Scoliosis causes postural deviation, such as uneven shoulders and hips, by introducing uneven forces to the body. However, a protruding stomach is more closely associated with hyperlordosis: a spinal condition that involves the development of an exaggerated inward curvature of the lumbar spine.
For a better understanding of how unhealthy spinal curves affect the body, let’s first explore the spine’s natural and healthy curves, and how essential they are to preserving spinal health and function.
If a healthy spine is viewed from the front and/or back, it will appear straight, and if viewed from the sides, it will take on a soft ‘S’ shape; this is because of the spine’s natural and healthy curves. As mentioned, these natural curves make the spine stronger, more flexible, and better able to absorb stress, like a coiled spring.
The spine has three main sections: cervical (neck), thoracic (middle/upper back), and lumbar (lower back).
Each spinal section has a characteristic curvature type, and the spine’s curvature types are known as kyphosis and lordosis.
Kyphosis refers to the spine’s curvature that bends outwards, away from the body’s center, in a reverse ‘C’ shape; lordosis refers to the spine’s curves that bend inwards, towards the body’s center in a standard ‘C’ shape.
The thoracic spine features a kyphotic curve, while the cervical and lumbar sections feature lordotic curves. Now, there is a natural range of curvature size that varies from person to person, but if the curvature-degree falls beyond a healthy range, problems can occur.
A healthy range of thoracic kyphosis would fall within a range of 20 to 40 degrees; cervical lordosis would also fall within a range of 20 to 40 degrees, with a normal range of lumbar lordosis falling between 40 and 60 degrees.
If the spine’s healthy curves are in place, this means the vertebrae (bones of the spine) are in a straight and neutral alignment, which is what the spine needs to function optimally.
So now that we know why the spine’s natural curves are so important, let’s address some common symptoms of scoliosis, and whether or not it causes the stomach to stick out.
Scoliosis is a complex condition to treat not only because it ranges widely in severity from mild to moderate and severe, but also because there are different condition types.
The most prevalent type of scoliosis is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 18, and this type is classified as idiopathic, meaning not clearly associated with a single-known cause.
Idiopathic scoliosis accounts for approximately 80 percent of known diagnosed scoliosis cases, and the remaining 20 percent is associated with known causes: neuromuscular, congenital, degenerative, and traumatic.
Different severity levels and types of scoliosis have unique treatment needs and will cause different types of symptoms based on key patient/condition variables: patient age and overall health, condition type (cause), curvature location, and condition severity.
The take-away here is that there is no blanket experience of life with scoliosis that can be applied to multiple patients, including symptoms.
Symptoms one patient experiences aren’t always indicative of what others will face, but there are common symptoms associated with scoliosis, and a good place to divide the topic is scoliosis symptoms in adolescents versus adults, as there is an important difference, particularly in terms of pain.
The most common symptom of scoliosis in adolescents is postural deviation due to the condition’s uneven forces, and how they disrupt the body’s overall symmetry.
Common Scoliosis Symptoms in Adolescents
The earliest signs of scoliosis in children and adolescents are often uneven shoulders and hips.
It’s also important to understand that as a progressive condition, scoliosis has it in its nature to worsen over time, particularly if left untreated, or not treated proactively.
So where a scoliosis is at the time of diagnosis, including experienced symptoms, is not indicative of where it will stay, and as a condition progresses, the unnatural spinal curve is increasing in size, the uneven forces exposed to the body are also increasing, and symptoms tend to become more overt.
In addition to uneven shoulders and hips, the following types of postural deviation are common in adolescents:
In addition, clothing can become ill-fitting, and changes to gait, balance, and coordination can also develop as indicators of scoliosis.
In children and adolescents, the condition isn’t commonly described as painful because the condition doesn’t become compressive until adulthood; growing spines are experiencing a constant lengthening motion that counteracts the compressive force of the curvature.
It’s compression of the spine and its surrounding muscles and nerves that causes the majority of condition-related pain, although muscle pain can be a very-real symptom for all ages; it's not just the spine that’s in charge of maintaining its natural curves and alignment, but also its surrounding muscles.
So how does scoliosis affect adults differently, in terms of its main symptoms?
Common Scoliosis Symptoms in Adults
While the main symptom of scoliosis in adolescents is postural deviation, in adults, it’s pain.
Scoliosis pain in adults can involve localized back pain and/or radicular pain felt throughout the body, in addition to related muscle pain.
As the brain and spine work in tandem to form the central nervous system (CNS), scoliosis can cause a wide variety of symptoms, particularly when there is nerve involvement.
Now, I said that pain is the main symptom of scoliosis in adults, and you might assume that’s back pain, which is prevalent, but most often, it’s radicular pain felt in other parts of the body, like the hands and feet, that brings adults in for a diagnosis and treatment.
Remember, nerves are like branches on a tree, fanning off in multiple directions, so if an unnatural spinal curve has compressed a spinal nerve, its effects can be felt far from its site of origin, anywhere along the nerve’s pathway, which can be extensive.
While pain is a more-prominent symptom in adults, they do also experience postural changes, such as the development of a rib arch and a prominent lean to one side, but what about the stomach?
So we’ve talked generally about the condition itself, the importance of healthy spinal curves, and the healthy range of curvature sizes.
We’ve also talked about common symptoms in adolescents and adults, so let’s address the specific question of whether or not scoliosis can make a person’s stomach protrude excessively.
As mentioned earlier, although scoliosis can cause a wide range of postural changes, an excessively-protruding stomach is more closely associated with another prevalent spinal condition: hyperlordosis.
Hyperlordosis can affect the cervical spine, but most commonly affects the lumbar spine, and this is because the lower back has to support the weight of the spine above, the trunk, and feels the effects of lifting, bending, and twisting motions.
If the lower back’s inward curvature becomes excessive, falling beyond the normal range of 40 to 60 degrees, it can cause what’s commonly referred to as swayback, referencing how it affects posture: the abdomen is thrust forward excessively, making the stomach stick out more at the front, and the buttocks protrude excessively at the back.
As you can likely picture, these postural changes are most noticeable when viewed from the side.
So can scoliosis make your stomach stick out? While scoliosis can cause a number of postural changes that involve a disruption to the body’s overall symmetry, a protruding stomach is more closely linked to another prevalent spinal condition: hyperlordosis.
Hyperlordosis most often involves the development of an excessive inward curve of the lumbar spine that gives the body a swayback appearance: stomach sticking out at the front, and buttocks protruding more at the back.
While not all forms of lumbar lordosis will require treatment and cause noticeable symptoms, those that have a fixed curve, meaning one that doesn’t change with a change in position, will require treatment that impacts it, first and foremost, on a structural level.
When it comes to scoliosis symptoms, the most common types of postural changes are uneven shoulders, hips, and the development of a rib arch, and the main symptom of scoliosis in adults is pain.
As a CLEAR-certified scoliosis chiropractor, I follow the CLEAR Scoliosis Institute’s treatment protocols, valuing proactive treatment that addresses the underlying structural nature of structural spinal conditions.
So when it comes to scoliosis treatment options, conservative treatment plans are customized and focus on preserving as much of the spine’s natural function as possible, by restoring as much of the spine’s healthy curves as possible.
Through a conservative chiropractic-centered treatment utilizing CLEAR Protocols, that combine condition-specific chiropractic care, therapies to increase core strength and address muscle imbalance, custom-prescribed exercises to further stabilize the spine and establish a home-rehabilitation program, corrective results may be achieved.