by Erik Dalton Ph.D.
founder of Freedom From Pain Institute

Ever since Hippocrates coined the term “scoliosis” to describe deformity of the spinal column, “structural scoliosis”- the fixed type – has occupied the attention of researchers and physicians. Early treatment modalities were often crude and sometimes violent, as well-meaning practitioners would walk on the scoliotic hump or apply excessive force using homemade, full-body traction devices. Nevertheless, these pioneering therapists did develop a number of sound therapeutic principles that still constitute essential features of many modern treatments, including:

  • Reducing gravitational exposure;

  • Using traction as a basic corrective force;
  • Applying pressure over the convexity of the curve; and
  • Creating myofacial extensibility to the concavity.

Structural scoliosis as a physical deformity is often accompanied by functional changes in the thoracic and abdominal organs as well as psychological and emotional disturbances. The extent of functional change in the heart, lungs, and other viscera is in direct proportion to the degree of the physical deformity. From puberty through middle age, scoliotic symptoms such as backaches, head/neck pain, arthritic symptoms, chest pain, and organ dysfunction cause people to seek help.

Fundamentals of functional scoliosis
“Nonstructural” or “functional” scoliosis refers to a structurally normal spine that appears curved. This condition can be a temporary abnormality—caused by various conditions—leg length inequality, spasmodic muscles, visceral problems, motor dominance, etc. Although the disorder is considered temporary, proper muscle and spinal biomechanical approaches are often needed to address the underlying imbalance pattern.

Functional scoliosis is characterized by an asymmetric position of the trunk and back that usually diminishes during forward bending, sidebending, rotational, or tractioning maneuvers. Functional scoliotic cases are frequently accompanied by other signs of faulty and relaxed posture, such as rounded shoulders, prominent abdomen and flat feet (Figure 1).

People presenting with crooked spines commonly suffer from a condition termed rotoscoliosis where the base of the spine “corkscrews” headward as the vertebral column turns on its axis (Figure 2) These coronal deviations often result from leg length discrepancies or pelvic imbalances. Functional scoliosis is extremely common and treatment options must be developed to help this ailing population. Of course, early detection and deep-tissue corrections are vital in preventing painful compensatory spinal problems that could manifest throughout adulthood.

The etiology of scoliosis has received great attention during the last century and, while considerable progress has been made, much greater knowledge is needed to clarify and completely explain the predominate dysfunctional mechanics of the scoliotic deformity.

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