People who experience back spasms, pain, or visual abnormalities in the spinal column often wonder if they have scoliosis. The bad news is that scoliosis does affect a sizable percentage of the total population in the United States—between 2% and 3%, according to the National Scoliosis Foundation. On top of that, there is no established “cure” for this debilitating condition.

The good news is that many people will not require invasive or long-term treatment for scoliosis, and in many cases the symptoms are mild or even non-existent. Patients who make use of chiropractic services are especially likely to avoid long term complications.

So what exactly is this condition called scoliosis?

Scoliosis is basically a sideways bending of the spine—or in medical terms, a lateral curvature. The spine is usually straight and vertical, with an inward curvature toward the bottom. When scoliosis is present, the spine (as viewed from the back) literally curves to the left or right, throwing the entire body out of alignment. Again, this can be a very mild condition that requires little-to-no treatment. In moderate-to-severe cases, however, scoliosis can be painful and debilitating.

Why does scoliosis happen?

Not every case of scoliosis is the same. Sometimes it’s present at birth (this is known as congenital scoliosis). In other cases, it starts before the patient has reached puberty and becomes more noticeable as the child goes through major growth spurts. Scoliosis can also come about as a result is muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and other conditions. It can happen as a result of specific injuries or traumas.

But here’s the real surprise: The majority of scoliosis cases have unknown causes. Modern medicine is often unable to find a precise cause or an effective treatment for scoliosis. This is know as idiopathic scoliosis, and it’s a source of constant frustration for those who suffer it. The condition can produce symptoms that drastically reduce quality of life, including chronic pain, limited range of motion, restricted breathing, and even a negative self-image.

How can chiropractic treatment help?

When it comes to scoliosis, doctors agree that invasive treatments like surgery should be held as a last resort. It’s important to receive an accurate diagnosis that includes the latest X-ray and imaging techniques, and to consider “conservative” or natural treatments before adopting a more aggressive approach.

There are certainly cases in which chiropractic treatment will not be effective for scoliosis. For example, there has yet to be any definitive proof that chiropractic adjustments can stop a lateral curvature from developing while the bones are growing (during childhood and adolescence). However, since the majority of scoliosis has caused by unknown factors, chiropractic treatment is a valid treatment option—especially in very mild cases.

A skilled and honest chiropractic practitioner will always conduct a detailed assessment of your spine and take your medical history into account. Chances are, you’ve already been to an osteopath or other doctor to have your spine examined and discuss treatment options. In many cases, your physician will have already referred you to the chiropractor. But if you haven’t yet been to a conventional doctor, your chiropractor should be honest about the severity of your condition and whether or not chiropractic is the right treatment for you at this time.