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What is functional scoliosis?

 

Functional scoliosis, otherwise known as compensatory scoliosis, is a condition that is very common and widespread among men and women of all ages. It refers to a curvature of the spine that is not structural, meaning that the individual suffering from functional scoliosis was not born with a defective spine. Rather it tends to be something that develops over the years due to bad posture, uneven leg length, hip deformity or as a result of sustained injury.

The most common cause of functional scoliosis however is leg length discrepancy. As the human body goes through development, there could be a growth spurt or two where there bones of the legs grow at different rates and the person is left with a small or severe leg length discrepancy. Medicinal research has found a number of reasons as to why this happens, but a few factors could include a dominant leg (more impact on the knee, tibia and femur on one leg than the other) which is hampered by constant weight on it, muscle mass differences such as having larger vastus lateralis or short hamstring muscles, malformation of the foot and internal rotators of the legs and hips being chronically in a contracted state.

How can you tell if you have functional scoliosis?

 

The first advice I would give any person who suspects they have functional scoliosis is to consult your physician. Our doctors are there for a reason and even though this will eventually fall out of their direct field of expertise, a doctor can analyse your posture, perform some basic tests and take some x-ray screenings in order to confirm whether or not you have functional scoliosis. One thing I would advise you against though is goign to a Chiropractor (see why in 'Who do I go to' at bottom of page)

That being said, there are also a few things you can do at home that can be significant pointers to whether you have a leg length discrepancy or not.

Self-Diagnosing Functional Scoliosis and Leg Length Discrepancy:

  • Standing in front of a mirror and looking at hip alignment.                                                                                                   

  • Looking for a hip tilting to one side more prominently.

  • Uneven trapezius muscles, lateral dorsi muscles or abdominal muscles.

  • Using a mirror to see if knees are aligned.

These are the easiest ways to find out if you have a leg length discrepancy. If you have uneven back muscles, one knee or hip higher than the other or pushing to one side then you most likely have functional scoliosis as a result of leg length discrepancy. 

Make sure you also check for flat feet. Thousands of people have one or both feet that are flat, meaning that the arch of the foot is non existent leading to bad posture and pressure on the knees. The illustration belows shows the different arch deficiencies and their impact on foot alignment:

Can I still workout in the gym if I have functional scoliosis?

The answer is yes. Definately. Working out in the gym will provide you with a means to strengthen muscles that have been neglected as a result of your compensatory scoliosis. The only issue you have to be aware of is when performing weight training or bodybuilding exercises with functional scoliosis, you will need to focus more on isometric training. Any bodybuilder will tell you that using free weights is the best way to build muscle mass and gain strength as they promote hypetrophy to a larger extent than using machines, but that does not mean that you cannot use any machine in your workout plan. The key is to be aware of which muscle groups are being engaged in each exercise and adjust the way you perform such exercises in order to shape your body as symmetrically as possible.

Having long standing experience in and out of the gym, I have personally gone through more than ten different workout plans and programs that are very popular with athletes, powerlifters and bodybuilders. None of these have been formulated with the functional scoliosis or leg length discrepancy sufferer in mind and are thus not entirely viable for such persons. 

How can I treat functional scoliosis/leg length discprepancy?

There are a number of ways a person can alleviate the symptoms that are concurrent with functional scoliosis and leg length discrepancy. 

These include but are not limited to:

  • Going to a podatrist to get in-soles

  • Following one of the Scoliosworkouts.com programs

  • Adjusting shoes to have a heel compensating for the leg length difference on the shorter leg

  • Stretching exercises (see Workout programs)

  • Strictly avoiding bad posture or lengthy times sitting on soft surfaces (sofas, chairs with no back support)

 

We all want to look and feel good and having muscle imbalances as a result of functional scoliosis is not the end of the line. Everybody has a chance to be healthy, strong and pain free by following the right training regime and is encouraged to do so in order to lead a good life.

Who Do I go To?

As previously mentioned, I would go to a doctor first. Your general practitioner can refer you to a hospital grade physiotherapist or spinal expert. Second of all, I would visit a podiatrist as they know all about feet and if you have a leg length discrepancy combined with a flat foot or flat feet, a podiatrist can help you out with a few things. Beware of visiting Chinese Medicine 'Back Specialists' or Chiropractors.

A while back on a weightlifting forum I used to use, I remember someone posting the following:

 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
smokinHawk

  

"i have pretty bad scoliosis as well. I never let it bother me or hinder me lifting weights, occationally ill do something to hurt it (unrealted to weightlifting) and my back gets all twisted more, making my spine curved bad (one shoulder higher to the other) but it ussally takes a couple of days and its back to normal.
also when i bend over and touch my toes you can see how the back ribcages on my rightside is alot higher then the left from the scoliosis. I am pretty confident though that exersizing and streching are helping me correct this or strengthen it.
when i first found out about it i would go to the chiroprator somewhat regularly and have him adjust my back until when he was cracking my back he tried to adjust my shoulders and did something to hurt them real bad, which was the start of a bad shoulder problem of mine."

 

WARNING:

 

There are many so called Chiropractors and Traditional Medicine specialists and other 'gurus' who will try to sell you on either products or services that do little to solve your scoliosis problems in the future that rely on your repeated purchases of wonder drugs, remedies and programs designed to clean out your wallet.

When performing resistance excercises with scoliosis, it is always important to put into account the severity of your curve, your posture when doing said excercises and whether you have consulted a specialist in the field of back problems (i.e. A qualified Orthopedist).

For those of us with functional scoliosis, you will need to strengthen your core muscles significantly through excercises such as the deadlift, planks, crunches, double handed kettlebell swings etc...

This will help with posture and ensure you can concentrate on targetting the weaker side of your back/shoulder area when doing isometric excercises to compensate the lack of muscle from weightlifting with functional scoliosis.

 

NOTE: Do not forget that your back will ALWAYS have a slight imabalance, your rib cage is slightly pushed to one side, so don't go over the top when doing isometrics excercises and always STOP if you feel pain in the area of curvature when lying down or breathing. PAIN = Your body telling you to stop. Do not despair as over time and by following the workout regimens in Scoliosisworkouts.com the difference will be less and less noticeable, to the point that one would have to point out the area directly to someone looking for them to be able to see it.