The traditional way to treat scoliosis involves periods of observation, bracing (though this is generally for adolescent patients whose spines are not fully developed) and then surgery if the curve progresses much past 40 degrees. Many doctors will tell you that surgery is the only way to treat a scoliotic curve greater than 45 degrees. But there are non-surgical scoliosis treatment options available.
Surgery can correct a curve by about 50 percent, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent future progression. Rods have been known to bend, or even break, due to an increasing spinal curve. It’s also a fairly invasive surgery. Long rods are anchored with hooks and screws to help support the spine while new bone material is added and later fuses with the spine. The rods hold the spine in the desired position while the bone fuses.
Before diving into surgery, it’s important to weigh all of the information to ensure it’s right for you.
If you’re looking for a non-surgical scoliosis treatment, you do have options. Physical therapy, yoga and chiropractic treatments all have some level of success with scoliosis patients. Although there is not as much research on alternative treatments as there is on bracing and surgery, case studies have proven that these treatments can succeed, so that more research is warranted.
As always, before beginning any non-surgical scoliosis treatment, it’s important to ensure that the treatment program is scoliosis-specific and reputable. General physical therapy, yoga and chiropractic sessions will not have much effect on scoliosis patients. They may even include exercises, stretches or adjustments that will actively make the Cobb angle worse, as they do not consider the unique biomechanics of the scoliotic spine
Let’s take a look at each non-surgical scoliosis treatment option in a little more detail.
Scoliosis-specific physical therapy was spearheaded by the Europeans, and is incredibly popular across the Atlantic. The exercises are generally customized based on your individual curve and work to strengthen and balance the muscles in the back.
The Schroth method, created in Germany in 1921, has gained some medical advocacy over the years and is now more or less common in the US. Focusing on the core and trunk muscles, the exercises and breathing techniques work to balance the posture and improve lung function. Though these exercises are hard work and must be done diligently to achieve the desired results, the Schroth method has decades of proven success behind its name.
Many adults with scoliosis use yoga to lower pain levels and improve the overall function of the back, hip and leg muscles. Yoga can work to improve posture, as well as increase your flexibility and strength. As long as your yoga instructor is used to working with scoliosis patients and has an understanding of your specific case, yoga can be a very effective pain reliever as well as a muscle and joint mobilizer.
One great program is Elise Miller’s Yoga for Scoliosis. She developed yoga routines that improve posture by strengthening the weak muscles on the inner side of the curve and stretching muscles that have tightened on the outer side. Since this routine was created specifically for scoliosis patients, it does not include poses that will compromise your spine.
There is a bit more risk with chiropractic adjustments than with other alternative treatments. Many traditional chiropractic adjustments involve moving the neck in ways that could be damaging to someone with scoliosis. Because of this, it’s essential to find a chiropractor with scoliosis knowledge and experience. Safe and precise adjustments can be very beneficial in correcting a scoliotic curve.
Scoliosis-specific adjustments use specialized instruments to precisely and gently re-align the neck. X-rays let scoliosis experts know which adjustments to the neck, hips or lower back would be useful in re-aligning the curve into a natural position.
Combining Alternative Treatments
Because all of these non-surgical scoliosis treatments have some merit, the path leading to the best results for you could be a combination of all three. Scoliosis-specific physical therapy exercises, stretches and specialized chiropractic adjustments can all work together to correct and stabilize the curve. This approach to treatment stops progression and has had success in actually correcting the curve, often over a matter of months.
We’ve seen this approach work firsthand since our own CLEAR treatment is one such program. Using an advanced system of x-rays and physical examinations, we formulate a personalized plan utilizing adjustments, exercises and stretches, as well as massages and other therapies. A typical CLEAR session begins with therapies that work to loosen the spine and prepare it for the adjustments, like massages and stretching. After the scoliosis-specific adjustment, patients perform exercises to strengthen postural muscles and improve both posture and balance. These exercises stabilize the corrections achieved with the adjustments.
If you’ve explored the options of bracing and surgery and found they aren’t right for you, one of these alternative treatments may help you get the results you’re after. Every scoliosis patient is different in what they hope to get from their treatment. If your goals revolve around lifestyle improvements, like improved breathing, better posture or pain relief, one of these alternative treatments could be best. Talk over all available options with your doctor to choose the right treatment for you.
Have you tried a non-surgical scoliosis treatment? Did it work for you? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.