3 ways to treat scoliosis-related neck pain with physical therapy


If you have scoliosis, you are likely familiar with the ways that it can impede your day-to-day life, including chronic neck and back pain. People with scoliosis are more likely to experience neck and back problems over the course of their lifetime. If you have scoliosis, you don’t have to live with this pain. A physical therapist can introduce you to a variety of techniques to help manage your scoliosis-related pain and create a treatment plan to help improve your quality of life. 

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is when the spine curves in an abnormal way. Normally, there is a curve in the spine at the top of the shoulder and a curve at the lower back. For a person with scoliosis, their spine may curve from side to side or in an S or C shape. Their spine might also rotate or twist.

The degree of scoliosis can range from mild to severe. Depending on the severity, scoliosis can present in a variety of ways:

  • Uneven shoulders.
  • Uneven hips.
  • One shoulder blade that sticks out more than the other.
  • One side of the rib cage jutting forward.
  • A prominence on one side of the back when bending over.

Most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning that they have no definite cause. If there is an identifiable cause, it is often caused by spinal birth defects or nerve abnormalities that affect the muscles in the spine.

How can scoliosis cause neck pain?

Scoliosis affects the spine, which is the core of our musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system consists of our bones, joints, spine and muscles. Each part works together to support our everyday motions and activities. If one part is out of whack, the whole system is affected.

As such, even if your scoliosis is located in your upper, middle or lower back, it can still cause neck pain. This neck pain is often the result of a separate condition in your neck that developed due to your scoliosis. Some conditions that might be the cause of your scoliosis-related neck pain include:

  • Forward head tilt — A forward head tilt is when the neck slants forward, placing the head in front of the shoulders rather than directly above. This head position puts increased amounts of stress on the neck, causing pain and headaches. If you have scoliosis, you may have developed a forward head tilt as a result of abnormal curvature in your upper or middle back. 
  • Cervical kyphosis — Cervical kyphosis is when your neck is either abnormally straight or bent backward. This condition can be caused by trauma, injury, poor posture, or congenital disorders such as scoliosis. Cervical kyphosis can place pressure on the spinal cord. In mild cases, this can cause stiffness, decreased range of motion, and pain in the neck, fingers, and toes. More severe cases of cervical kyphosis can cause paralysis and issues with bladder or bowel control.
  • Spinal stenosis — Scoliosis can cause the spaces in the spine to narrow and create pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. This condition is known as spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis most commonly develops in the lower back and neck. Spinal stenosis can cause a burning pain or ache in the affected area that radiates outward. Spinal stenosis in the neck can also cause numbness or weakness in the arms, hands, or fingers.

3 ways physical therapy can help reduce scoliosis-related neck pain

There are a number of PT techniques that a physical therapist may use to manage or reduce your scoliosis-related neck pain, including:

  • Hot and cold treatment — Heat therapy can improve circulation and blood flow, relax muscles, and break up damaged tissue. A physical therapist may recommend heat therapy to provide temporary pain relief for your scoliosis-related neck pain. Minor stiffness can often be relieved with only 15 to 20 minutes of heat therapy, while more severe pain may benefit from longer sessions of heat therapy. Cold therapy can reduce blood flow, decrease inflammation and temporarily reduce nerve activity, providing some pain relief. Cold treatment should only be applied for 10 to 15 minutes. Using a combination of hot and cold therapy can help temporarily manage your neck pain and may be more effective when supported by other physical therapy techniques and professional medical care.
  • Manual therapyManual therapy is a technique where physical therapists use their hands to move and manipulate parts of your body, including your neck and upper back. Your treatment plan may include a combination of neck mobilization, where a physical therapist slowly moves your neck joints and muscles, and upper back manipulation, where a physical therapist applies single, small movements to the joints and muscles in your upper back. Research indicates that these manual therapy treatments are effective in reducing back and neck pain.
  • Therapeutic exercise — A physical therapist may include customized exercises as part of your treatment plan. These exercises are designed to help return your spine to a more natural position. Therapeutic exercise can help restore muscular symmetry and proper posture alignment and derotate and elongate the spine. By helping to correct the curves in your spine, this PT technique can also correct your head and neck alignment, reducing your scoliosis-related neck pain.

Physical therapists at Whatcom PT can help you manage your scoliosis neck pain

Your life doesn’t have to be dictated by your pain. At Whatcom Physical Therapy, our team of specialists is prepared to help you get your life back on track. 

Our physical therapists can assess your scoliosis and identify the specific source of your neck pain. After evaluation, they can create a treatment plan that’s customized to your needs. With the support of one of our specialists, you can start to manage your scoliosis symptoms and get back to doing what you love.

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.