There are a number of spinal conditions that cause a loss of healthy spinal curves and alignment, and scoliosis is the leading spinal condition amongst school-aged children; spondylosis is referencing symptoms of spinal degeneration and pain, but doesn’t indicate the cause or nature of that pain.
Scoliosis is a specific condition that involves the development of an unnatural sideways spinal curve that also rotates, while spondylosis isn't a condition itself, but a term referencing generic symptoms of spinal degeneration and pain.
Let’s start our comparison of scoliosis and spondylosis by first defining each condition, and then touching on their differences and similarities.
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Scoliosis is the development of an unnatural sideways spinal curve, with rotation, and a minimum Cobb angle measurement of at least 10 degrees.
A patient’s Cobb angle measurement is determined during X-ray by drawing lines from the tops and bottoms of the curve’s most-tilted vertebrae, and the resulting angle is expressed in degrees.
The higher a patient's Cobb angle, the further out of alignment the scoliotic spine is, and the more severe the condition:
The more severe a condition, the more likely it is that its effects are going to be noticeable, and in addition, scoliosis is a progressive condition, so let’s take a minute to explore what that means.
Scoliosis is a progressive condition, meaning it has it in its nature to worsen over time, and this means that where a patient’s scoliosis is at the time of diagnosis doesn’t mean that’s where it will stay.
Mild scoliosis can progress to become moderate, severe, and very severe if left untreated, or not treated proactively.
Scoliosis is virtually guaranteed to get worse at some point; only proactive treatment can work towards counteracting the condition’s progressive nature, which is why how a diagnosis of scoliosis is responded to can have such far-reaching effects.
Scoliosis progressing means the size of the unnatural spinal curve is increasing, and this makes the spine more rigid, making it less responsive to treatment, and for some patients, increasing spinal rigidity can interfere with the ability to perform certain therapeutic exercises as part of treatment.
We don’t always know what causes scoliosis to develop, but we do understand how and why it progresses: growth.
As growth triggers the condition to get worse, children who have not yet reached skeletal maturity are the most at risk for rapid-phase progression, particularly in the codjtion’s most-prevalent type: adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 18.
Scoliosis can affect all ages, but is most commonly diagnosed during adolescence.
Not only does scoliosis range widely in severity, there are also different types that can develop, and this is determined by a condition’s underlying cause.
The majority of known diagnosed scoliosis cases are classified as idiopathic scoliosis, meaning not clearly associated with a single-known cause, and the remaining 20 percent are associated with known causes: neuromuscular scoliosis, degenerative scoliosis, and congenital scoliosis.
Neuromuscular scoliosis is caused by the presence of a larger neuromuscular condition disrupting communication between the brain and the supportive muscles and connective tissues that provide the spine with support and stabilization.
Degenerative scoliosis is caused by natural age-related spinal degeneration, while congenital scoliosis is a rare form affecting approximately 1 in 10,000 and is caused by a malformed spine that develops in utero.
As mentioned, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is the most-prevalent type overall, and this age group is at risk for rapid-phase progression due to the rapid and unpredictable growth spurts of puberty.
Spondylosis isn’t a condition itself, but references generic symptoms of spinal degeneration and pain caused by the presence of an underlying spinal condition or issue.
There is a certain amount of spinal degeneration to be expected with age, and the cumulative effect of lifestyle factors can also play a role in a patient’s severity and rate of spinal degeneration.
The spine consists of vertebrae stacked on top of one another in a straight and neutral alignment, and adjacent vertebral bodies are separated by an intervertebral disc, and these discs are key spinal structures that are commonly the first to feel the effects of spinal degeneration.
The discs consist of two main structures: a tough and durable outer layer known as the annulus, and a soft and gel-like interior called the nucleus.
The discs help preserve spinal strength, flexibility, and function in many ways; they provide the spine with structure (adjacent vertebrae attach to the disc in between), flexibility, cushioning to prevent friction generated during movement, and act as the spine’s shock absorbers so stress can be evenly distributed and absorbed.
The discs are the largest structures in the body that don’t have their own vascular supply, and this is why disc degeneration is a contributing factor in the development of so many spinal conditions/issues.
When we’re born, the discs are made up of approximately 80-percent water, but as we age, that fluid level gradually decreases, and certain lifestyle factors such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and excessive consumption of alcohol and/or smoking can also affect disc health and function.
When the discs start to deteriorate, this tends to involve disc desiccation; as a disc experiences excessive fluid loss, it tends to lose height and change shape, and this directly affects the position of adjacent vertebrae attached to a deteriorating disc that can shift out of alignment with the rest of the spine.
A misaligned spine is one that’s not going to be as strong or function as well, and this can cause excessive rates of spinal degeneration, and pain as a result.
In addition, conditions such as osteoporosis and/or osteoarthritis can also cause spondylosis as both are degenerative spinal conditions.
The main difference between scoliosis and spondylosis is that the former is a structural spinal condition, while the latter isn’t a condition itself, and is referencing generic symptoms of spinal degeneration and pain caused by another spinal condition and/or issue.
Another difference is in causation; in the majority of scoliosis cases, we don’t fully understand why they develop, but in the majority of spondylosis cases, we know the symptoms are caused by the presence of an underlying spinal condition such as degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, and/or osteoarthritis.
A difference in how the two issues are treated is that scoliosis treatment involves working towards achieving a curvature reduction on a structural level, while spondylosis treatment involves first determining its underlying cause, and then shaping treatment plans around it.
Similarities between scoliosis and spondylosis are that both can involve and cause excessive rates of spinal degeneration; this is particularly the case with degenerative scoliosis.
It is also possible to have both as in cases of scoliosis with lumbar spondylosis; for example, if a person develops degenerative scoliosis in their lumbar spine, spondylosis can present as a symptom of the unnatural degenerative spinal curve developing in the lower back.
With current estimates of the Scoliosis Research Society reaching close to seven million people living with scoliosis in the United States alone, we know the condition is highly prevalent, making awareness important.
While there are never treatment guarantees, early detection, when paired with a proactive treatment response, does increase the likelihood of treatment success.
When detected early in a condition’s progressive line, before significant progression has already occurred, the condition’s effects can be mild, and despite being progressive and incurable, scoliosis can be highly treatable.
Here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, I approach each case of scoliosis with fresh eyes; no two cases are the ame, and the complex nature of scoliosis necessitates the full customization of effective treatment plans.
Unlike scoliosis, spondylosis is not a condition itself, but instead refers to a set of generic symptoms that include spinal degeneration and pain, but doesn’t indicate the cause or nature of that pain.
While scoliosis can be painful, this isn’t common until the condition becomes compressive, which doesn’t happen until skeletal maturity is reached, and this is why scoliosis does not’ cause a lot of back pain in children, but pain is a defining feature of spondylosis.
When it comes to treating spondylosis, the first step is determining its underlying cause, which can include degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, and/or osteoarthritis.