This article will summaries key points on Scoliosis

There are three types of structural scoliosis

1) Idiopathic

2) Congenital

3) Paralytic


1. Idiopathic scoliosis is perhaps archetypal and most well-recognised.

- It is a genetic/hereditary condition of poorly understood pathogenesis
- Majority is “adolescent idiopathic scoliosis” – i.e. develop between age 10-18
- Incidence between male and female is the same but female has 10 x more likelihood to progress
- Vast majority of the curves are convex to the right at thoracic spine




2. Congenital scoliosis is essentially a birth defect and not that common.

(Below is an example of congenital scoliosis before and after a corrective surgery)

Congenital scoliosis


3. Paralytic scoliosis is secondary to a pre-existing condition that had resulted in paralysis and scoliosis consequent to that.

- e.g. post-polio, cerebral palsy, post-stroke


The above three types of scoliosis are STRUCTURAL – i.e. “true scoliosis”.

There is non-structural scoliosis that can be frequently observed – often called “postural”. They require little intervention, other than some general advice in regards to exercises and encouragement to correct


Adams forward bend test is the simplest test that can help differentiate structural from non-structural.

Adam's forward bend test


Cobb angle: choose the most tilted vertebrae above and below the apex of the curve. The angle between intersecting lines drawn perpendicular to the top of the top vertebrae and the bottom of the bottom vertebrae is the Cobb angle.

Cobb angle

Cobb angle plays an important part in overall assessment and plan of management of Scoliosis (see below).


Intervention can consist of four types:

- observation
- scoliosis-specific exercises (reasonable evidence for this for those even with significant Cobb angle).
- orthopaedic braces (best in combination with scoliosis-specific exercises)
- surgery

This direct from Horne et al (2014):


“Determining which patients need referral to an orthopedist can be complicated, and clear indications are not always available. The risk of spinal curve progression increases with higher Cobb angle and lower Risser grade. However, the trend in recent years is that fewer patients need radiography, and fewer patients who undergo radiography need treatment. Treatment modalities such as physical therapy, chiropractic care, and electrical stimulation have questionable benefit in preventing scoliosis progression. Bracing and surgery are options, but the evidence for them is limited. A 50-year follow-up study of late-onset idiopathic scoliosis including 117 untreated patients and 62 age- and sex-matched volunteers found that patients with untreated scoliosis are productive, are high-functioning, and usually have little physical impairment other than back pain and cosmetic concerns.”


Table scoliosis management


1. Horne JP, Flannery R, Usman S. Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis: Diagnosis and Management. American Family Physician. 2014;89(3):193-8.

2. Negrini S, Atanasio S, Zaina F, Romano M. Rehabilitation of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: results of exercises and bracing from a series of clinical studies. European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. 2008;44(2):169-76.

3. committee Sg, Weiss HR, Negrini S, Rigo M, Kotwicki T, Hawes MC, et al. Indications for conservative management of scoliosis (guidelines). Scoliosis. 2006;1:5.

4. Persson-Bunke M, Czuba T, Hagglund G, Rodby-Bousquet E. Psychometric evaluation of spinal assessment methods to screen for scoliosis in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2015;16:351.

5. Rigo M. Differential diagnosis of back pain in adult scoliosis (non operated patients). Scoliosis. 2010;5(Suppl 1).

6. Shakil H, Iqbal ZA, Al-Ghadir AH. Scoliosis: review of types of curves, etiological theories and conservative treatment. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2014;27(2):111-5.

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