Key Differences: Functional Scoliosis Vs Structural

Functional Scoliosis Vs Structural


Scoliosis is a medical condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the spine. It affects people of all ages and can vary in severity. Understanding the two main types of scoliosis—functional scoliosis vs structural scoliosis—is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

In this blog, we will explore the differences between functional and structural scoliosis, the various types of structural scoliosis, the diagnostic process, and available scoliosis treatment options.

types of Scoliosis

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a condition where the spine curves sideways, forming an “S” or “C” shape. This curvature can affect posture, balance, and overall spinal alignment. Upon a scoliosis diagnosis, an individual exhibits an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine, accompanied by spinal rotation and a Cobb angle measurement of at least 10 degrees. This indicates a departure from the normal spinal alignment.

The causes of scoliosis vary, ranging from genetic factors to neuromuscular conditions and trauma.

Functional vs. Structural Scoliosis

Understanding the difference between functional vs. structural scoliosis can aid healthcare professionals in accurately diagnosing and devising effective treatment plans tailored to the specific nature and type of scoliosis in each individual case.

Functional Scoliosis

  • Nature of Curvature: Temporary or reversible spinal curve.
  • Structural Integrity: The lumbar spine is structurally normal.
  • Causes: External factors, such as muscle imbalances or leg length discrepancies. When the difference in limb length exceeds 5 mm, it may cause the sacral shelf to tilt, resulting in spinal rotation.
  • Interventions: Targeted interventions, including physical therapy and orthotics (e.g., shoe inserts), effectively address concerns like limb length discrepancy.
  • Reversibility: Often improves with interventions.
  • Age of Onset: This can occur at any age.
  • Progression: Can improve or stabilize with interventions.
  • Long-Term Outlook: Generally favorable with appropriate interventions.

Structural Scoliosis

  • Nature of Curvature: Fixed and permanent curvature.
  • Structural Integrity: Involves abnormal shapes of the bones of the spine.
  • Causes: Underlying skeletal abnormalities of the spine’s bone shape.
  • Interventions: Requires more comprehensive and specialized treatment like bracing and surgical intervention.
  • Reversibility: Permanent, may require ongoing management rather than a complete cure.
  • Age of Onset: Often present during adolescence, particularly in idiopathic cases.
  • Progression: This may progress, especially in cases like idiopathic scoliosis during growth.
  • Long-Term Outlook: Requires ongoing management; severity may impact long-term health.

Types of Structural Scoliosis

Structural scoliosis can be further categorized into different types based on its causes:

Idiopathic Scoliosis

Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type, and its exact cause is unknown.spinal issue is idiopathic scoliosis It’s more prevalent and severe in girls compared to boys, and the gender difference increases with age among children.

Neuromuscular Scoliosis

Neuromuscular scoliosis is associated with conditions affecting the nerves and muscles, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. The imbalance in muscle function contributes to the curvature of the spine.

Degenerative Scoliosis

Degenerative scoliosis, common in older adults and linked to the natural aging process, results from the degeneration of the spine’s discs and joints. This degeneration contributes to an asymmetric curvature, manifesting as a difference in shoulder height.

Congenital Scoliosis

Forms during fetal development and manifests in infancy, congenital scoliosis is a rare condition, impacting 1 in 10,000 individuals. It can stem from vertebrae malformations or other origins. Typically, surgical correction is necessary to address the spinal curvature. This type may require early intervention to prevent further complications.

Traumatic Scoliosis

Traumatic scoliosis, stemming from injuries like fractures or dislocations, can impact the alignment of the spine, potentially affecting the spinal canal and leading to body irregularity.

Diagnosis and Medical Evaluation

Diagnosing scoliosis involves a comprehensive medical evaluation by health care providers, encompassing a physical examination, imaging studies (X-rays or MRIs), and assessing the patient’s medical history.

Differentiating between functional and structural scoliosis is crucial for determining the appropriate course of action and facilitating proactive treatment when necessary. This is especially vital in cases of early-onset scoliosis, where timely intervention can significantly impact the long-term prognosis.

Scoliosis treatment

Treatment Options

To ensure a healthy spine, your healthcare provider tailors treatment plans based on factors like your age, overall health, scoliosis type, and potential progression, ensuring a personalized approach to manage the scoliosis curve effectively.

Physical Therapy: Combatting issues like bad posture, exercises, and stretches are designed to target muscle imbalances, forming a crucial part of the personalized treatment plans tailored by your healthcare provider. Additionally, chiropractic care may be incorporated to enhance the effectiveness of these interventions.

Orthotics: Addressing concerns like leg length discrepancies, interventions such as shoe inserts play a crucial role in the tailored treatment provided by your healthcare provider. This is especially significant for managing issues like thoracic curves.

Bracing: Utilized as a part of a conservative treatment to prevent further progression of the curve magnitude, especially in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis, bracing is a vital component of the tailored treatment provided by your healthcare provider.

Surgical Intervention: Integral to the diagnosis of scoliosis, especially in children with scoliosis, and reserved for cases where conservative measures are insufficient, and the curvature poses significant health risks, interventions such as spinal fusion surgery may be considered as part of the comprehensive treatment plans provided by your healthcare provider. These interventions aim to address and stabilize the spinal column for optimal long-term outcomes.


Q1: Can scoliosis be cured?

A1: While functional scoliosis can often be improved with appropriate interventions, managing a scoliotic spine, especially in cases of structural scoliosis, may necessitate ongoing care rather than a complete cure. In some instances, interventions such as electrical stimulation complement the treatment approach provided by your healthcare provider.

Q2: What causes scoliosis in adults?

A2: Adult scoliosis, often related to degenerative changes in the spine affecting the discs and joints, may present with signs of scoliosis. Recognizing these signs is crucial for timely diagnosis and intervention by your healthcare provider, ensuring effective management of this spinal condition. In severe cases, surgical treatment may be recommended to address the curvature and enhance long-term outcomes.

Q3: Can scoliosis be prevented?

A3: Preventing scoliosis may not always be possible, but early detection and appropriate treatment, aligned with the goal of treatment, can help manage the condition effectively. Recognizing signs of scoliosis and seeking timely intervention from your healthcare provider are crucial steps in achieving this goal, mainly when dealing with scoliosis.


Functional and structural scoliosis require tailored approaches for diagnosis and treatment. Understanding these differences is vital for effective management. Early detection, thorough assessment, and prompt intervention significantly impact the prognosis. If you suspect scoliosis, consult a healthcare professional for guidance on the best course of action.

If you’re concerned about scoliosis and aim at eliminating physical pain, take the next step by scheduling a consultation with Kinetic Sports and Spine. Our experts specialize in providing personalized approaches for both functional and structural scoliosis.

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Dr. Jason Avakian

COMT,cTDN,CFSC,FRCms,FMS Owner Kinetic PT and Fitness

At Kinetic PT, we are experts dedicated to eliminating the pain and discomfort of our patients. We specialize in advanced techniques which transform our client experience from pain to maximum performance in the gym and daily life

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