Scoliosis can affect your breathing. But this typically happens only when the curve of your spine is severe enough to put pressure on your ribcage, making it difficulty for your lungs to expand.

Scoliosis is a spinal condition. It causes your spine to curve and take on S or C-shape. This can lead to symptoms such as pain and difficulty with movement. It can also compress your ribcage, resulting in trouble breathing. Typically, this happens with severe scoliosis only.

This article looks at how scoliosis may affect your breathing, and what you can do to treat this complication.

How do you know if you have mild or severe scoliosis?

Scoliosis ranges from mild to severe, depending on the curve of your spine. The spinal curve in scoliosis is called the Cobb angle. There are four general classifications based on the Cobb angle:

  • Mild scoliosis: An angle of between 10 and 25 degrees.
  • Moderate scoliosis: An angle of between 25 and 40 degrees.
  • Severe scoliosis: An angle of over 40 degrees.
  • Very severe scoliosis: An angle of over 80 degrees.
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Scoliosis curves can happen anywhere along the spine. Scoliosis is most likely to affect lung function when the curve occurs in the upper and middle parts of the spine. And the curve of the spine needs to be severe enough to put pressure on the ribcage, making it difficult to expand and contract your lungs.

This complication typically occurs when severe scoliosis has gone untreated. It’s more likely to happen to adults with scoliosis than to children with scoliosis.

People with lung function that has been affected by scoliosis might notice symptoms such as:

These symptoms may be especially noticeable when you’re exercising or otherwise straining their lungs.

For some people, difficulty breathing might be noticeable and difficult to manage. For others, it might be mild and not interfere with daily life. The severity depends on the person and their specific scoliosis. Not everyone with the same Cobb angle will have the same experience and the same breathing-related symptoms.

If you have scoliosis and are experiencing difficulty breathing, see a doctor. They will likely have suggestions and treatments to help with your breathing.

The best plan for you will depend on the severity of your breathing trouble and on what else you’re doing to treat your scoliosis. Possible treatments options might include:

  • Quitting smoking: If you smoke, quitting is a highly recommended lifestyle change for anyone with scoliosis, and it’s an even more important step for people who are having breathing difficulties.
  • Low impact exercise: Your doctor might recommend that you start incorporating some low impact exercises, such as swimming, to your routine, as these can improve your posture and your breathing.
  • Maintaining a moderate weight: Achieving and maintaining a moderate weight can help you improve your posture, and can help relieve pressure on your ribcage.
  • Physical therapy: You might attend physical therapy sessions to improve your posture, breath control, balance, range of motion, and more. This can all lead to better breathing and an overall improvement in scoliosis symptoms.
  • Yoga. Taking regular yoga classes can help you improve your balance, posture, and range of motion, and can help reduce pain.
  • Bracing: Braces for your spine can help support your spine and ribcage, making breathing easier. You might wear them daily, or only during specific activities.
  • Spine stabilization surgery. If other treatments aren’t working, surgery is sometimes the best treatment option. Surgery to stabilize the spine, reduce pressure on the ribcage, and restore lung function.

Can you live an active life with scoliosis?

Many people with scoliosis lead full and active lives. Treatment can help manage symptoms and can prevent complications.

Sometimes, children and teens may need to wear braces to keep their curvature from progressing. Treatment such as physical therapy can also help prevent the condition from progressing and can help people with scoliosis gain strength, stability, and balance.

Pain-resolving medications and injections are additional options that help people with scoliosis reduce their symptoms and lead full lives.

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Scoliosis ranges from mild to severe, depending on the angle of the curve created in the spine. Typical symptoms of scoliosis include back pain and difficulty with walking and other motion.

However, scoliosis can also put pressure on the ribcage, leading to trouble breathing. This complication is more common in people with severe scoliosis who have curves in their mid and upper spines.

When scoliosis affects the lungs, it can cause symptoms such as shallow breathing and difficulty catching breath and taking deep breaths.

Treatment for breathing difficulties caused by scoliosis depends on the severity of the symptoms and overall scoliosis treatment plan but might include lifestyle changes, physical therapy, bracing, or surgery. Treatment can help people with scoliosis can lead full and active lives.