Can Scoliosis Make It Harder For You To Breathe?

Scoliosis is characterized by an abnormal curvature of the spine, according to Health Grades. Those with the condition may have a spine that takes the shape of an S or a C when viewed from behind. With nearly three million new cases emerging annually in the U.S., cases of scoliosis can range from mild to severe (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). Scoliosis affects up to 3% of American children and adolescents. Most often, cases of scoliosis are detected in children between the ages of 10 and 12.

While genes may potentially play a role in developing the disorder, the exact cause for most cases is unknown (idiopathic), according to experts at Health Grades. Other potential causes may include abnormal fetal development, the presence of health conditions such as cerebral palsy, or disc degeneration in older adults.

Depending on the severity of the case, individuals may experience difficulty moving, tingling, back pain, or nerve damage. Among these complications, can scoliosis also affect one's ability to breathe?

Breathing difficulty in severe scoliosis cases

In severe cases, scoliosis may impact one's ability to breathe if there is significant contortion in the chest that impedes expansion of the lungs or diaphragm, according to research published in the Canadian Respiratory Journal. In addition to the physical constraints caused by the bending of the spine, some experts believe that the spine's rigidity may also play a role in hindered breathing for patients with severe scoliosis (per Scoliosis Reduction Center).

Experts at the Scoliosis Reduction Center explain that breathing impairment is often only seen in serious scoliosis cases, particularly those of the middle back rather than the lower back. In addition, breathing difficulty is generally not observed in those with less than a 40-degree curvature. While curvatures upwards of 70 or 80 degrees may result in severe lung complications, some individuals may experience no respiratory issues at all.

Per Johns Hopkins Medicine, early detection of scoliosis can allow for early intervention — if intervention is needed at all. "I see a number of patients who automatically assume they will need treatment for their scoliosis, but only a small percentage — about 30 percent — require bracing, and an even smaller percent — about 10 percent — of patients actually require surgery," states pediatric orthopedic expert Dr. Paul Sponseller via Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Scoliosis is a very manageable condition when diagnosed early," Dr. Sponseller adds.