Can You Be Fit & Have Scoliosis? (Medical Scoliosis vs Functional Scoliosis)

‘I have scoliosis’ is something I hear a lot, at least once a week. The interesting thing about this medical or non medical ‘issue’ is that we all probably have it to some degree! The cause of scoliosis is unknown, how ever there are factors that can definitely contribute to this condition. Most people tend to live asymmetrical lives. We like to cross our arms a certain way, lean into one leg, have one bag over the same shoulder ect… People have patterns that they strengthen all day, every day. The result of these movement patterns can be that connective tissue develops in a way that adapts and changes to these holding/movement pattens. This can potentially be a problem down the line. Now I’m not saying that crossing your arms a certain way all the time is going to give you scoliosis, I’m just highlighting an example of everyday habits that can cause asymmetries.

Your spine, like of the rest of your body is responding to the loads and forces you place on it. Due to our life styles (and even the sports we play), these loads and forces can be bias to certain directions and can result in asymmetries. These asymmetries that are developed through movement patterns can lead to potential problems in the body (and mind) later down the line…

So the question is, what really is scoliosis and is it a problem?

Medical Scoliosis

Medical scoliosis is when the spine curves or twists past 10 degree in one direction. Non medical scoliosis is when the spine has curves or twists in one direction but is less than 10 degrees. One is a medical diagnosis and the other isn’t (I’d like to add here that I’m not a clinician and I’m just commenting on the medical description of scoliosis).

The common issues that can arise from medical scoliosis is having too much compression in certain areas of the spine and too much stretch in others, lack of mobility in certain planes of motion and potentially pain.

Functional / Nonstructural Scoliosis

Functional or non structural scoliosis is when the spine has undergone a temporary change in the spinal curvature. This is generally in compensation to a biomechanical issue and/or inflammation somewhere else in the body. A common cause to functional scoliosis (at least in my expeience) is pelvic asymmetry. The sacrum acts as the base of the spine (L5 rests on the sacrum). If the sacrum is ‘off balance’ due to an issue at the sacroiliac joint, this can have a knock on effect higher up the kinetic chain. So this type of scoliosis is in response to something else going on in the body. Normally once the ‘root cause’ to the functional scoliosis has been addressed, spinal ‘alignement’ has also been improved.

Can You Be Fit And Have Medical Scoliosis?


You may or may not know that Usain Bolt, the fasted man on the planet, has scoliosis. He’s been very public about his struggles as a young man training with scoliosis. Despite any issues he may have faced he has clearly over come them and has become one of the top athletes of all time…

So this completely calls into question what we classify in the health and fitness world as ‘fit for purpose’. The old school of thought was you had to be conditioned in a way that made you biomechanically prepared and fit for your activity and sport to avoid injury and to optimise performance. While this paradigm is still relevant and beneficial to most of the population (and makes a lot of sense), our stereotypical definition of what is a ‘sound structure’ or a ‘fit/strong body’ for a sport or activity has to be revisited and updated. Yes of course we need to take asymmetries / imbalances into consideration, but these very things can be apart of a person’s genetics, not being a problem for them at all!

So Is Scoliosis A Problem?

As always depends on the individual. It can develop into a problem for some people while others will go through their whole life and never know they had it. The take away from this blog is that if you have an ‘issue’ it doesn’t mean you’re not fit and it doesn’t mean you’re not healthy. It’s something you have that may or may not be an issue. If you know (or suspect) you have some form of scoliosis, I definitely recommend you consult with your clinician to have a professional’s opinion on the best cause of action to take.

What can be harmful to an individual’s physical and mental health is if they are going through life with a label in their head that they either gave themselves from a self diagnosis on Google or by a clinician. A big part of an issue is your interpretation of that issue. Is that a ‘woo woo’ statement? No, it’s been proven again and again that how a person feels about their body will have a tremendous effect on the physiological state of their body.

I hope this gave you a little bit more info on scoliosis but more importantly I hope this stimulates some questions and ideas in your head about what it really means to be fit and healthy.

Thanks for reading and have a great day 🙂

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Tom Waldron

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