What is Scoliosis? Scoliosis is a lateral bending curvature of the spine of 10 degrees or more. This means the spine is bending sideways, not forwards and backwards. If a spine does not adhere to that plum line definition, it’s not scoliosis. It’s something else.

After teaching a recent Spiral Spine teacher-training course, I had a participant come up to me with unanswered questions about scoliosis. One of her clients had sent her spinal X-rays along for me to review. I quickly told this teacher that I was not a doctor and wasn’t properly qualified to ‘diagnose’ this client, but I could tell her what I thought I saw from my years of experience.

I stared at this X-ray, wondering what this teacher wanted me to see. I saw a beautifully straight spine with, what I thought looked to be an injury to a few discs, affecting the placement of two to three vertebra. It definitely didn’t look like idiopathic scoliosis. The teacher told me her client had been diagnosed with scoliosis and the doctor wanted to do spinal fusion surgery. Seriously?? I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. The basic definition of scoliosis was being overlooked. This certainly warranted a second opinion from a different doctor.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had to tell people who think they have scoliosis, that they in fact, do not. The sad thing is most people have no idea how clueless they are about scoli (a diagnosis they supposedly have!).

A mother booked a private lesson with me for her daughter “who had bad scoliosis,” and she wanted me to assess her. When they walked in the door, I saw a pale, thin, sickly-looking 20-something year-old with horrible posture and stringy hair. I did not see someone who had scoliosis. After thoroughly checking out her back using a scoliometer, I announced that her daughter seemed to have a beautifully straight spine. She had no ribcage or vertebral rotation. It was a bit awkward as we still had over half the lesson to go and the topic of scoliosis had been already been thrown out the window.

Her mom had thought that the deep curves in her daughter’s neck, ribcage and lower spine (that went forward and backwards) were scoliosis. Nope. That’s usually just bad posture, which can be helped with corrective exercise.

Let’s repeat the definition of scoliosis one more time: scoliosis is a lateral bend of the spine of 10 degrees or greater. So, are you sure you have scoli?

*This post is the first in a series called “What Is Scoliosis.” Over the next several months, we’ll attempt to clarify many of the misconceptions surrounding scoliosis and the different types of scoli.