What is Scoliosis and How Physiotherapy Can Help

Scoliosis is an umbrella term for a range of spinal conditions that affect the natural curvature of the spine, causing the spine to curve sideways. Most cases of scoliosis are mild and don’t require any treatment. However, spine deformities may develop and get worse over time, with severe scoliosis being painful and debilitating.

Affecting around 3% of the population, females are 8 times more likely to develop scoliosis to a level of severity that requires treatment. Scoliosis can occur at any age through life but tends to begin in children and teenagers, often just before puberty, around 10-15 years of age.1

Classifications of Scoliosis

Scoliosis can be classified by aetiology or origin, into 3 groups.


This classification is the diagnosis when other causes are ruled out, making up about 80% of all cases. The term ‘idiopathic’ means that the cause of the condition isn’t actually verifiable.


This form of condition occurs during development of an embryo when one or more vertebrae are malformed. This can occur in any part of the spine and can cause curvature and other deformities when one part of the spinal column lengthens at a slower rate than the rest. This type of scoliosis is usually detected at a young age as there will be symptoms present at birth.


This classification covers scoliosis that is secondary to a neurological or muscular disease, and can be seen with spinal muscular atrophy, spina bifida and cerebral palsy. This type often progresses faster than idiopathic scoliosis and will need surgical treatment in many cases.

Symptoms of Scoliosis

The curvature can occur in any part of the spine but tends to usually affect the upper spine and lower back. There may not necessarily be pain present, even though it is often assumed there will be. It is found that patients who have been diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis and who have pain present can often attribute this pain to other causes, so a thorough diagnosis is important.

These are some of the signs that may lead you to seek professional advice to determine possible scoliosis:

  • Shoulders are uneven, with one shoulder blade higher or one may be sticking out.
  • The head isn’t centred above the pelvis.
  • The waist is uneven.
  • Rib cages are at different levels.
  • Either one or both hips are raised or unnaturally high.
  • The whole body leans to one side.
  • The skin that overlays the spine may be different in appearance, showing as colour abnormalities, hairy patches or dimples.

How is Scoliosis Diagnosed?

A doctor is your first contact if you suspect you may have scoliosis and you are likely to be referred for diagnostic imaging such as an x-ray. An x-ray of scoliosis will show the spine as a ‘c’ or ‘s’ shape and the severity will be assessed by measuring the angle of curvature. This is known as the Cobb angle.

An angle of at least 10 degrees must be present for a scoliosis diagnosis. If the angle is 25-30 degrees, it is considered significant and anything above 45 degrees is considered severe and a more aggressive treatment is likely to be recommended.

Physiotherapy to Treat & Manage Scoliosis

It can be quite common for people to be diagnosed with scoliosis but not to have a lot of detail about what it is and how it can be managed. It is useful to note that physiotherapy will benefit those with scoliosis, regardless of the severity and other treatments that may be happening such as bracing or surgery.

The team at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy includes staff who are qualified to manage scoliosis expertly and effectively. When physiotherapy is referred for this condition a thorough assessment will be undertaken to determine a treatment plan tailored to the individual.

Some of the factors that will be discussed include the spinal maturity of the patient and whether the spine is still growing and changing. The location of the curve and the severity of the condition will be determined. A curve in the centre of the spine is more likely to get worse than one in the upper or lower part. Also, the likelihood of curve progression will be looked at.

Spinal physio treatment may include a range of motion and breathing exercises as they can assist with any limitations to function. Strength training is also important, particularly of the trunk area, as it helps to minimise the impact of the condition on the body. Remedial massage may also be a beneficial treatment option for scoliosis alongside others.

Early detection of scoliosis means treatment options can be explored quickly to minimise the negative impact this condition can have on the quality of day-to-day life and may reduce the risk of it getting worse.

If you have signs of this condition speak to one of our physiotherapists or book an appointment online. Don’t spend any longer feeling discomfort or pain – get moving pain free as soon as possible.