What Does Scoliosis Mean?

What Does Scoliosis Mean? Image

So, what does scoliosis mean? Scoliosis refers to a curvature of the spine, generally between 10 degrees and 40+ degrees. People who suffer from scoliosis may experience pain, limited mobility, and other debilitating symptoms.

Scoliosis can lead to improper posture, hip and shoulder misalignment, and, worst of all, pain. Some people have it for unknown reasons, while others have key factors that contribute to a treatable problem.

Scoliosis is a much more complex condition than it might seem, though how to get scoliosis is easier than you'd think. Let's break down the specifics to gain a real understanding of this common health issue.

The Three Stages of Scoliosis

Scoliosis can be broken down into three stages. These stages include mild, moderate, and severe, all of which are determined based on the curvature severity of the spine. 

Three Stages of Scoliosis.

No matter which stage you are at, modern advances have made this uncomfortable problem much more livable for patients who suffer from it.

  • Mild scoliosis has a spinal curvature of about 10 degrees. While this might seem like only a small deviation, it can have dramatic effects on the patient. That being said, there's an even more significant concern with mild scoliosis than the uncomfortable symptoms; without proper treatment, it will very likely get worse.
  • Moderate scoliosis has a spinal curvature ranging from 25 degrees to 40 degrees. This stage is the most common for doctors to treat, as it is when patients often begin to seek help. Physical pain and cosmetic changes start to become prominent and noticeable when a person enters the moderate category of this condition.
  • Severe scoliosis, the final stage, is classified as a spine curving above 40 degrees. This is almost always accompanied by pain when found in adults. Children usually only notice cosmetic changes, though pain is still a possibility. Overall, severe scoliosis may require serious medical treatment, including surgery.

Scoliosis is a very complex condition and should not be left untreated. Regardless of which stage you're at, there's a definite need to seek help from a professional. In most cases, scoliosis increases by a degree or more per year. This progression can result in increasing discomfort, along with all sorts of other unwanted symptoms. Don't worry, though! Scoliosis is treatable at any of the three stages.

The Symptoms of Scoliosis

Scoliosis is often self-diagnosed by people who begin to notice physical symptoms. However, you can have scoliosis without even knowing it. 

Several medical tests can determine whether or not these worries are true or false.

Interestingly enough, scoliosis can also cause other pain that you might not even associate with your spine.

  • For example, people who suffer from hip, knee, or foot pain may have scoliosis.
  • The curvature misalignment can result in various problems throughout the body, not just along the back.
  • Anywhere from the neck to the bottom of the foot is prone to be affected by scoliosis.
  • The area in which pain presents is based on which vertebrae are degenerating or being reduced in some way.
  • Other symptoms are rib arching and pain that wraps from the back to the front of the torso.

A rib arch is a classic method of determining scoliosis in a patient, though an X-ray is often the best way to get definite results. 

Symptoms of Scoliosis.

There are a number of scoliosis screenings, including...

These tests are quickly performed by medical professionals to see if an X-ray is necessary.

Adults who have scoliosis notice the changes over time, but sometimes they can happen very quickly.

  • With Adult Degenerative Scoliosis, the vertebrae can deteriorate in a matter of months.
  • This rapid deterioration can cause an increase in symptoms at an alarming rate.
  • Even typical scoliosis usually results in moderate to severe pain in untreated adult patients.

Children who develop a slight curve in their spine before puberty may notice a height change, and that can also be an early indicator of scoliosis. 

  • Sometimes a hip and shoulder differential can be an early sign as well.
  • If the hip and shoulder are both higher than their partners on the other side of the body, scoliosis may be the cause.
  • However, if it's a hip on one side and the shoulder on the other that are misaligned, this may be caused by bad posture, which can generally be fixed by a chiropractor.

Scoliosis Development During Puberty

While a small curve can be present when a child is younger, puberty often accelerates the problem into full-blown scoliosis. 

Whether it's mild, moderate, or severe varies depending on the individual. But in any scenario, the rush of hormones that cause fast growth in teenagers is often the reason that younger people develop scoliosis.

When you're growing, the spine is the primary factor in determining your height. With an ever-growing spine, small curvature problems become accentuated. The rapid increase in height during puberty makes a slight 5-degree spinal curvature turn into a 15-degree curvature very quickly. The patient might also start to develop pain during this period.

Since the disability can accelerate at a rapid pace right around 11 to 13 years old, doctors often try to treat the symptoms early on. The sooner that the patient is treated through various techniques and applications, the higher the chance they have to recover. As such, it's not uncommon to see patients as young as 6, 7, and 8 years old treated for scoliosis symptoms. 

Scoliosis Development During Puberty.

The outlook might not seem so bad if a patient only has a mild scoliosis diagnosis, but it's only an early indication of something much worse to come. It's almost impossible for scoliosis to go away on its own - almost every case requires medical intervention. 

The main problem is that scoliosis compounds as the years go on.

  • A 10-degree curvature at 10 years old that might be classified as 'Mild' and doesn't seem so bad now becomes a 20-degree curvature at only 20 years old. Carry this another decade and the patient could see 30 degrees at 30, 40 degrees, at 40, and so on.
  • The key takeaway for this section is that early treatment is undoubtedly the best solution. In some cases, patients can notice almost complete recovery.
  • And the sooner you catch it, the less money you'll have to spend treating it. This is because the primary goal of a chiropractor or medical professional in treating scoliosis is to allow the patient to be able to manage their symptoms at home as quickly as their health permits.

Extreme Cases of Scoliosis

Scoliosis is often accompanied by pain, misalignment, possible height reduction, and more. Older patients commonly complain about being a couple of inches shorter than they were in their younger years of life. 

Extreme Cases of Scoliosis.

However, there are extreme cases of scoliosis with much more dramatic symptoms. Some patients, especially when they're older, might experience an imbalanced feeling. This is a sign that the upper neck has degenerative vertebral issues. These can directly impact the patient's equilibrium, much like an ear infection can.


Scoliosis is a condition that exhibits when the spine curves at a range of 10 to 40+ degrees. While scoliosis isn’t curable, it is quite manageable if the sufferer engages in curvature management strategies like scoliosis exercise programs, physical therapy, and chiropractic care. 

The severity of the symptoms of scoliosis depends on the severity of the curve. A mild curve can cause pain and a slight cosmetic deformity, whereas a more severe curve can produce more apparent deformities and pains. 

If a child has a mild case of scoliosis, the onset of puberty can accelerate the disability rapidly. The growth spurts that are associated with puberty can worsen the scoliosis curve quite quickly, so immediate action is necessary if your pre-pubescent child is exhibiting a curve in their spine. 

Extreme cases of scoliosis typically occur in older patients and can produce debilitating symptoms like a persistent feeling of imbalance, a noticeable reduction in height, and permanent mobility issues. 

If you think that you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of scoliosis, it's better to get checked now rather than risk developing more severe symptoms later on in life. 

Repairing scoliosis early on can prevent pain, difficulty walking, reduction in height, structural imbalances, and other symptoms. So don't wait - contact a chiropractor or medical doctor and get a screening as soon as possible.  

Additional Resources:

“The author’s views are his or her own and may not reflect the views of CLEAR Scoliosis Institute.”

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Author: Dr. J Hartley

Dr. J Hartley, known as Dr. J, was diagnosed with scoliosis as a young teenager. In the 1970’s, the options given were watch and wait, or surgery. Faced with these two options, no treatment was provided. Not until his own 12-year-old was faced with progressive scoliosis did he find the CLEAR Institute. His daughter visited the CLEAR Institute in St. Cloud, MN for Intensive Care and had good results. She could return to running and soccer. Dr. J decided to return for Intensive Care for himself and the rest is history. He has now been focused on scoliosis detection, prevention, and reduction for over 6 years. Dr. J graduated from the Palmer College of Chiropractic, Davenport, Iowa in 1992. He became a Board Chiropractic Neurologist in 1995 and a Board Certified Intensive Care Scoliosis Doctor in 2015.
Reach out to Dr. J Hartley

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This website is for informational and general purposes only. Information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you have read on this site. 

CLEAR Scoliosis Centers are privately owned and operated chiropractic clinics. Doctors at CLEAR Scoliosis Centers are personally responsible for all clinical decision making. CLEAR Scoliosis Institute, a nonprofit organization, does not have any authority over the clinic, make any clinical recommendations, or dictate patient care.
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