Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that may develop during adolescence. Occasionally, the curvature could be severe enough to compress parts of the digestive system and lead to constipation.

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Constipation due to scoliosis can occur if your spine curves in a way that restricts part of the digestive system. Scoliosis is when your spine curves abnormally to the side during development. Doctors usually diagnose scoliosis during childhood or adolescence.

According to the National Scoliosis Foundation (NSF), about 2–3% of the population, or 7 million people in the United States, have scoliosis. For many people, the spine curves only a small amount, but sometimes the curvature can worsen as a person grows.

If a spinal curve from scoliosis worsens, it could compress and restrict some parts of the digestive system. This can change how your digestive system functions, leading to constipation and other digestive issues.

The spine plays a vital role in the neurological functions that control every body system, including digestion.

When you eat, the brain sends signals along nerves to initiate the physical and chemical reactions that digest food.

A curved spinal column may put pressure on these critical nerves, decreasing their ability to properly transmit signals from the brain. A spine curvature due to scoliosis may also compress some digestive organs, such as the intestines, and change how they function.

A problem in the digestive process can lead to constipation. These issues can slow food movement and create harder, larger stools that are more difficult to pass.

Neuromuscular and congenital scoliosis types have a slightly greater risk of constipation than idiopathic scoliosis.

Types of scoliosis

Doctors diagnose four main types of scoliosis:

  • Idiopathic: This is the most common type in children and adolescents that usually produces a slight curvature. Idiopathic means the cause is unknown.
  • Congenital: This occurs from a problem during the development of one or more vertebrae during fetal growth. Congenital causes the spine to lengthen more slowly as the baby grows.
  • Neuromuscular: Neurological or muscular disease or injury causes a curvature. Neuromuscular usually progresses more rapidly and requires surgery.
  • Adult degenerative: This is diagnosed in adults when the spine curves more than 10 degrees, commonly due to the breakdown of tissue and bone.
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In addition to constipation, scoliosis can lead to other digestive issues.

You might experience a feeling of fullness in your stomach after eating only a little food. This commonly occurs with scoliosis curves that affect the thoracic (middle) and lumber (lower) parts of the spine, near the stomach and intestines. Pressure from the curvature of the digestive system can make you feel full even though you haven’t eaten much.

Similarly, curves in these regions of the spine increase your risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, and hiatal hernia. This risk increases because of changes in the back’s muscle strength and pressure on structures that prevent reflux, like the lower esophageal sphincter.

There currently is no standardized treatment for constipation caused by scoliosis, but doctors may suggest a few options. The first treatments for constipation include adding high fiber foods and water or other liquids. Other recommendations include:

  • regular physical activity
  • try to have a regular bowel movement at the same time each day
  • evaluate your medications for side effects
  • take over-the-counter (OTC) medications for constipation

If these treatments don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a stronger dose of prescription medication.

Treating scoliosis itself can often relieve constipation and digestive issues. In cases of a slight curvature, aggressive treatment is not usually recommended.

Doctors may offer more specific treatment for curves greater than 25-30 degrees. These treatments may also relieve constipation because they will correct the curvature that puts pressure on the digestive system.

Treatments include:

Signs of scoliosis

Often, others notice changes in your spine before you do. Some common signs of scoliosis can include:

  • uneven shoulders
  • one or both shoulder blades stick out
  • your head is not centered above the pelvis
  • one or both hips are unusually high
  • uneven rib heights
  • uneven waist
  • a texture to the skin over the spine (dimples, patches of hair, color abnormalities)
  • your body leans to one side
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Scoliosis occurs when your spine develops or becomes injured in a way that causes it to curve. In some people, the curve puts pressure on nerves that affect the digestive tract and organs, causing constipation.

Most treatments for scoliosis can be complex or invasive, like bracing or surgery. Instead, a doctor might recommend more conservative constipation treatments unless your scoliosis curve is severe. Treatments might include dietary changes, more activity, and medication.

In some cases, your curve may be so great that the doctor recommends bracing or surgery to treat scoliosis, which may also relieve constipation.