Neurological Effects of Scoliosis

Updated February 21, 2017

Scoliosis, a misalignment of the spine, can cause not only back pain but also neurological problems. As the spinal column adds to the degenerative effects of ageing, adults can experience pain in the extremities or even some loss of function. Correcting the spinal alignment with either surgical or non-surgical procedures can take the pressure off the nerves and give them a chance to heal.

Nerves and the Spine

The Spine-health website describes the spinal cord as the master nerve of the central nervous system. As it descends from the brain down through the spinal column, 31 pairs of large nerves sprout from nerve roots through spaces between the vertebrae, or spinal bones. These nerves continue to branch out into smaller peripheral nerves, extending all the way to the fingers and toes.


Scoliosis, the presence of a c-shaped or S-shaped curves in the spine, has no known cause in 85 per cent of cases, according to the Mayo Clinic. Signs of scoliosis include an uneven gait, shoulders or hips that appear out of alignment with each other, protruding ribs on one side, fatigue, breathing problems and back pain.

Nerve Compression

While scoliosis frequently causes back pain, it can also send shooting pains down the leg. Dr. Dean McCance in the New York Daily News describes the spine as a tube that starts to collapse over the years, pinching the nerves inside. The change can cause a phenomenon known as "foot drop," in which the patient loses some muscular control over the foot, which starts to drag along the ground instead of moving with a normal walking motion. Dr. Robert S. Pashman on the eSpine website concurs that adults with scoliosis may encounter worsening nerve compression and pain in the extremities as their condition magnifies the effects of age-related spinal degeneration.


If scoliosis causes a patient's nerve problems, then correcting the misalignment may bring relief. A case study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders states that a combination of manipulation and physical rehabilitation techniques on 22 patients improved each patient's alignment by at least 25 per cent. The rehabilitation techniques included applying weights to the patients' hips, shoulders or head, as well as balancing exercises and lying on foam blocks to create traction. McCance states that surgical treatment can relieve the nerve compression by fusing the spine into correct alignment. According to the Spine-health website, a spinal fusion involves removing the disks between bones and filling the gaps with bone grafts or substitute materials, supported by screws and rods. The surgeon may fuse the spine from the front (anterior) or from the back (posterior).

Surgical Complications

Spinal fusion procedures come with their own potential agonies. The Spine-health website notes that complications can include infection, fusion failure, problems with the surgical hardware and, in extremely rare cases, paralysis. Surgeons can perform response tests during the procedure to ensure that the spinal cord functions properly.

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