scoliosis correction Posted in: Treatment

As we’ve discussed before, there’s a lot of confusion and unrealistic promises that surround many scoliosis correction methods. Bracing and surgery are the two most common methods to treat scoliosis. But they’re not the only options available to you.

Once you have all of the information on the treatment methods available, you’ll be able to make the right decision for you and take control of your spinal health. Let’s dive into some of the misconceptions that often surround scoliosis correction.

Myth #1: Bracing and Surgery Are the Only Treatment Options

Doctors who only recommend bracing and surgery for scoliosis often claim that there isn’t sufficient research on other methods (such as chiropractic) to prove that they’ll work. But before Dr. Paul Harrington introduced the concept of surgically implanting rods into the spines of scoliosis patients in the 1960’s, there wasn’t research proving surgery was effective either. More scientific articles are being published on new, alternative methods of treating scoliosis every month. And more people are recognizing the benefit of natural healthcare approaches that work with the body’s brain and muscles, rather than forcing the spine into position without trying to address why it curved in the first place.

Given what we do, it’s pretty clear you have other options. Physical therapy, yoga and scoliosis-specific chiropractic adjustments are just a few of the alternative options available to you. All of these methods have seen success in restoring natural spinal curves and making overall improvements to a person’s quality of life. Scoliosis braces and surgery are not for everyone, and luckily they are definitely not the only choices you have for scoliosis correction.

Today, sixty years after Dr. Harrington’s work and almost 400 years after the first scoliosis brace was developed by Ambroise Pare, dedicated physiotherapists and chiropractors around the world are working to add to the list of treatment choices available to people just like you or your loved one. We believe that if for any reason bracing and surgery aren’t the right solutions for you, you deserve other options besides “just living with it.”

Myth #2: Surgery Cures Scoliosis

There is no magic cure for scoliosis. That being said, there are treatment methods that can work to reduce the curve in the spine, relieve pain and improve your body’s ability to function. Surgery is often advertised as the only “cure” for scoliosis, and it’s true that in some cases it can reduce and stabilize the curve. However, it can’t be considered a cure since it doesn’t restore everything to normal. It does nothing to remove the underlying cause of scoliosis, and it introduces new problems into the spine. Dr. Caroline Goldberg, a scoliosis expert in Dublin, Ireland, says, “Surgery does not cure the disease of scoliosis, but rather replaces one deformity (a flexible, curved spine) with another (a straighter, fused spine).”

Fusing a spine together also means removing spinal discs, which exist to cushion your spine from any impact. The jolts of everyday life will have a greater impact on a spine without these built-in, shock-absorbing discs. Many people who have spinal fusion surgery do fairly well… until they get into a car crash or similar accident. Those traumatic forces are transferred through the rods, rather than being absorbed by the missing discs, and can cause severe damage.

It’s also important to recognize that it is possible for scoliosis to continue to get worse even after spinal fusion and instrumentation. In one study, all but eight degrees of correction were lost after 20 years. While this study was conducted on procedures performed 20 years ago, we won’t know for another 20 years how much correction is maintained by the current methods. Surgery may be a treatment option for scoliosis, but it certainly is not a cure, nor is it a permanent fix.

Myth #3: Scoliosis Surgery Doesn’t Affect Mobility

Some people will tell you that you’ll be able to do all the things you did before surgery, aside from high-impact, contact sports. In fact, the effect of a spinal fusion on mobility is one of the most common misunderstandings people have about their lives after scoliosis surgery.

When you mess with one part of the spine (by fusing it together), other parts of the spine are also affected. The muscles and bones in our body are incredibly connected. This means that when a body part is fundamentally altered, all other body parts are affected as well. So, for example, when the upper spine is fused and loses flexibility, the lower spine can end up carrying some extra pressure since it’s being asked to compensate for that lost flexibility. That extra pressure can then lead to accelerated degeneration in the lower spine. By seemingly correcting one problem, you’ve unknowingly created another.

Some people are able to still enjoy the activities they love, but not everyone returns to the same level of function they had before the surgery. One study found that a spinal fusion reduces average overall mobility by 25 percent, and another found that this loss of normal spinal motion still exists after more than 20 years. However, when scoliosis patients without the surgical spinal fusion are compared to scoliosis patients who’ve undergone the surgery, it’s clear that the surgery causes a decrease in overall mobility.

Myth #4: Braces Provide Long-Term Scoliosis Correction

We’ve talked about how scoliosis surgery often fails because it doesn’t correct the underlying problem. Back braces have the same issue. While the brace is on, it pushes the spine into a straighter position. But once the brace comes off, the body can revert back to its previous curve and resume getting worse. Over the long-term, most studies find that there isn’t much difference between the quality of life in patients who wore a brace compared to those who didn’t.

The best evidence suggests that, to be most effective, the brace must be worn for a minimum of about 13 hours a day for at least two years and sometimes longer. This is a long time for the muscles to become weak! The same study shows that kids who wore a brace for only a few hours each day were actually more likely to have surgery than those who did nothing at all.

Aside from some backslide in your Cobb angle after the brace comes off, there is another fundamental issue with how scoliosis braces often work. Braces prevent movement. And, it turns out, movement is great for regenerating spinal discs, which are great for preventing your spinal curve from increasing with age. Studies have shown that when you don’t move as much as you should, your body has trouble sending necessary water and nutrients to your spine and spinal discs.

Eventually, the brace could even cause the spinal muscles to atrophy, meaning your muscles will break down from lack of use. When you break a leg and wear a cast that immobilizes the leg muscles, the muscle fibers lose almost 50% of their strength after just three weeks. Many parents of kids with scoliosis report that their child’s muscles weakened while wearing a brace, or that they developed back pain after taking off their brace. This is perhaps because their spinal muscles had become dependent upon it. So the brace you’ve been wearing to fix your scoliosis could actually be making it worse and setting you back in the long run.

Even though neither treatment method is new, scoliosis bracing and surgery still carry a lot of mystery to patients. The misinformation makes the disappointment that much greater when the results promised aren’t delivered. We hope this post helps dispel a bit of that mysteriousness surrounding scoliosis correction and allows you to make an informed decision about what’s right for you.

Have you tried a traditional treatment for scoliosis correction? What do you wish you’d known before you underwent treatment? Or do you have any questions about treatment options? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

23 comments on “Scoliosis Correction: Myth vs. Reality”

  1. 1
    Carolyn McPhail-Dunning on February 8, 2017

    I am completely happy with the service I got from the Spine Institute in Fort Collins. I was surprised though that when I requested the closest center from my zip code I was forwarded to a center in Nebraska when Fort Collins is only 20 miles away from my home. You probably should adjust your locations.

    1. 2
      Dr. Josh Woggon on February 8, 2017

      Hello, and thank you for sharing! We’re delighted to hear of your positive experience. The reason why the Fort Collins location no longer shows up on the ‘Find a CLEAR Doctor” locator is because the doctors at this location chose not to renew their CLEAR certification. As part of our commitment to patient-centered, high-quality care, we have an ongoing, annual re-certification process to ensure that our doctors stay up-to-date on the latest in scoliosis research & treatment, and when they do not keep up with this, they are removed from the list of CLEAR doctors. Our reputation is built upon the results of our doctors, so we only recommend those centers that take the time to share their results with us, and allow us to monitor their patient care protocols.

  2. 3
    Lyusi Mirzoyan on November 4, 2017

    Hello, since 15 my parents noticed my scoliosis and after getting an x-ray I had a double curvature of 21°. I began getting physiotherapy every week and after a year my curvature had reduced by half and because of studies I unfortunately stopped going to the physio and doing exercises at home and now when I am 18 I noticed that my back had gone back to how it was before getting the treatment. When I now sometimes do back exercises similar to what I had been doing at the physio I notice that my muscle do stretch and cramp and my back does crack during the exercises. I do get mild back pain but it goes away after a day and some exercise. I got my period when I was 14 and I did notice that I got taller since last year. I was wondering that if I start the physio again but more rigorously, would I be able to fix my scoliosis? I cannot afford surgery as I am in my last year of high school and I cannot miss 5 months of school. Are there any possibilities I can consider without any surgical treatment ? Thank you

    1. 4
      Dr. Josh Woggon on November 5, 2017

      Hello,
      With a scoliosis of less than 35 degrees, surgery is not usually an option one would consider. After the age of 16, bracing becomes much less effective as well. Honestly, a scoliosis-specific physiotherapeutic or exercise-based program (such as CLEAR, Schroth, SEAS, ScolioGold, or similar) would most likely be the best choice for managing the pain and other symptoms, and ensuring optimal spinal function.
      It’s important to understand that most cases of scoliosis cannot be fixed or cured, but they can be managed and controlled. Reducing and stabilizing a scoliosis through scoliosis-specific exercise is possible, but most people with scoliosis will always live with some degree of curve in their spines. Exercises are also like proper diet & nutrition, or regular dental hygiene, in that they are about the journey, not a destination. If you want the benefits of a good diet or regular brushing & flossing, you have to continually maintain these practices – they have to become part of your life. It’s very similar with scoliosis exercises. You may start out with an intensive program that takes 1 or 2 hours every day, and gradually decrease the time spend exercising each day once you get the results you want, but you should always count on doing at least 10 or 20 minutes of exercises for your spine every day.

  3. 5
    Carol Lynn Stevens on February 9, 2018

    I am 62 years I suffer from severe scoliosis & in need of surgery About how long would I need to be in the hospital? Overall how long would it take me to heal?

    1. 6
      Dr. Josh Woggon on February 9, 2018

      Unfortunately, as a chiropractor, I would not be the best person to answer those questions for you. However, I can point you in the direction of some helpful resources:
      http://www.scoliosis.org/shop/product/scoliosis-surgery-the-definitive-patients-reference-third-edition/
      http://www.srs.org/patients-and-families/conditions-and-treatments/adults
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5415160/
      https://www.laserspineinstitute.com/back_problems/scoliosis/how-long-does-it-take-to-recover-from-a-scoliosis-surgery/
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFapbTgd99Q
      Ideally, you should direct this question to the orthopedic surgeon who will be performing your procedure; they will be able to give you the most accurate and individualized information for your specific case.
      I wish you all the best of hope & healing in your scoliosis journey!

  4. 7
    Kristy Lucas on April 23, 2018

    My son has severe scoliosis at over 100° what non invasive options do we have.

    1. 8
      Dr. Josh Woggon on April 23, 2018

      It is heartbreaking for me to tell you that in cases of severe scoliosis, the options for conservative treatment are extremely limited. While some CLEAR doctors have had some degree of success in helping patients with very severe scoliosis, it’s important to be realistic about the expectations & results of care. Even a 20% improvement would still result in a curve over 80 degrees. At this point, the main goal is simply to provide the patient with the best possible quality of life & function, and to manage or reduce the continued worsening of the curve (which is essentially inevitable with a curve of this magnitude).
      Very few doctors specializing in non-surgical scoliosis treatment will accept a scoliosis patient with a curve over 100 degrees, and those that do will require a significant investment of time & resources. Treatment could be ongoing for many years. This isn’t meant to discourage you, but rather to ensure you have a realistic & informed understanding of what is involved in treating such a large curve. It is a huge risk for a doctor to accept a case of very severe scoliosis, and if the patient demonstrates non-compliance or fails to keep their appointments or follow the doctor’s recommendations, ethically the doctor has a responsibility to dismiss the patient & refer them for spinal surgery.
      More information can be found on our page for Severe Scoliosis. You can also reach out to us at care@clear-institute.org for further information or assistance. If you would like to reach out to a CLEAR doctor and provide them with more detailed information about your son’s case, they would be able to provide you with more detailed information regarding what the recommended treatment plan might look like. You can find a list of Certified Doctors here. I wish your son all the best of health & happiness in his scoliosis journey!

    2. 9
      Grant on June 8, 2018

      That breaks my heart with a curve of 56 degrees and the pain it caused me before correction I can only start to imagine the pain he must have to deal with daily I hope whatever happens he gets some relief.

  5. 10
    Michelle Naomi on April 24, 2018

    Hello my daughter is 15 and has a 64 degree curve in her thoracic and lumbar regions, I am wondering if there are any other options besides surgery, how effective these other options will be, and how long the treatment will last for.

    1. 11
      Dr. Josh Woggon on April 25, 2018

      With a case of severe scoliosis, I’m afraid your non-surgical options are limited. While a few case reports have been published recently demonstrating some degree of success with a combination of exercises & bracing, these are advanced, scoliosis-specific exercises & specially-designed braces prescribed by professionals with years of training in scoliosis; you should not expect these results with general exercises and a standard brace. The CLEAR protocols have also shown some degree of success in reducing large curves to below surgical thresholds and stabilizing them at this level, but it must be noted that this, too, requires a long-term commitment and a significant investment of time & resources.
      The degree of effectiveness depends upon many factors, including your definition of success. The higher your goals & expectations for treatment, the more that patient compliance & commitment will influence the results. The success of active treatments (such as bracing, exercise, & CLEAR) depends upon the patient keeping their appointments and following their doctor’s recommendations.
      The length of treatment similarly depends upon many factors; it is a simple question with a complex answer. Most cases of severe scoliosis, though, should expect several rounds of treatment spaced over a few years.
      To receive more detailed & specific estimates of the success & duration of treatment, you will need to consult with a scoliosis specialist over the phone or preferably in-person, and share your daughter’s x-rays & medical records with them. With this information, they will be able to provide better answers to your questions.
      To find a CLEAR doctor near you, please visit our Find a Doctor page. If there is not a CLEAR doctor near you, you can learn more about your options in this blog post. If there is any additional assistance we can provide, please feel free to reach out to us at (866) 663-7030 or care@clear-institute.org.

  6. 12
    Tamika on April 24, 2018

    Hi. I am a 37 year old female and was diagnosed with scoliosis at a 43 degree curvature as a teenager. I did bracing and chiropractic treatments during that time to manage the pain but stopped shortly after. I have been living with chronic pain ever since. I would like to know if chiropractic treatments/ therapy would be beneficial to someone like me in managing and possibly reducing the severity? Thank you.

    1. 13
      Dr. Josh Woggon on April 25, 2018

      Hello,
      Many people living with scoliosis report some degree of relief with chiropractic care. The degree of success of treatment depends upon the specific therapies & protocols that the chiropractor provides to the patient. Receiving treatment from a chiropractor with advanced training in scoliosis greatly increases the likelihood of positive results. This is particularly important to consider when the scoliosis is severe (over 45 degrees) and has been present for many years.
      I would definitely encourage you to consider reaching out to a CLEAR Certified Doctor and sharing more information about your scoliosis with them. They will be able to perform an exam and review your x-rays & medical history to provide you with more detailed answers to your questions.
      You can also find the stories of many patients, just like yourself, who experienced relief from their scoliosis-related symptoms through the CLEAR protocols, on our Patient Success Stories page, and video interviews with real patients on our YouTube channel.

  7. 14
    ameer hamza on May 20, 2018

    Hello!! i have faced Scoliosis disease the past 3 years. i have pain just in backbone. last day doctor advise to me a surgery but i don’t want to do a surgery. i think curve bellow 30 degrees. can you tell me treatment will be possible without surgery and it will be possible by brace, exercise and chiropractic treatment .. Thank you

    1. 15
      Dr. Josh Woggon on May 22, 2018

      Hello, and thank you for taking the time to post. I hope I can help!

      With a Cobb angle below 30 degrees, most surgeons would not recommend scoliosis surgery unless the patient had significant pain and limitations; having pain just in your tail bone does not seem to be a valid reason to have surgery. Considering that the most current orthopedic recommendations for scoliosis surgery strongly discourage fusion of L5 to the tail bone, it is unlikely that scoliosis surgery would affect your tail bone pain.

      Besides CLEAR chiropractic scoliosis treatment, you might be able to find practitioners in the Schroth, SEAS, DoboMed, or other scoliosis-specific exercise approaches (click here for more info on these methods). I would definitely recommend trying conservative, non-surgical treatments before undergoing surgery; many people have found the relief & results they have been looking for with these natural approaches.

      I wish you all the best of hope & healing in your scoliosis journey!

  8. 16
    ameer hamza on May 20, 2018

    according to MRI result curve is D12/L1 spine can you tell me about scoliosis Degree? plzzzz
    ..

    1. 17
      Dr. Josh Woggon on May 22, 2018

      You can learn more about Cobb angle on our site, here.

  9. 18
    Sansa wijenayake on May 23, 2018

    Hey , i’m 21 now , i was 16 when i realize scoliosis bt didnt get treatments , when i was 18 i went to a dctr and after examining me he said that there’s no option neither operating nor bracing , now i have a mild backpain and i feel so uncomfortable because of my unusual curve , is there any treatment i can follow to reduce this ??

    1. 19
      Dr. Josh Woggon on May 24, 2018

      Many people have scoliosis that is too mild (or outside of the recommended age range) for bracing or surgery, that nevertheless ends up causing them pain & discomfort over time. Just like the alignment in a car, even a small misalignment can cause uneven wear & tear.
      Fortunately, CLEAR treatment has helped thousands of people just like you! Please click here to find a CLEAR doctor in your area, or here if there is no doctor near you.
      In addition to CLEAR, you can also consider scoliosis-specific exercise programs like Schroth, SEAS, and others.

  10. 20
    Anh Cung on May 27, 2018

    Hi Dr, I am a 19 asian male have a severe thoracolumbar scoliosis. My T3-T5-T11 Cobb Angle measures 28, while T11-L1-L3 measures 40. I’m also flat feeted. Currently, theres no pain in the back and I can do weight lift, sports, and carry heavy stuff. However the area in the back where theres a hunch gets tired when I sit for a long time if I dont lean my back against something. I do swimming 1-2 a week and occasionally do breathing exercise to improve the spine. They say at this age the curvature wont decrease but exercising can make it not increase. I look fine with clothes on but a hunch can be seen if I take my shirt off. What is the most ideal treatment for me right now?

    1. 21
      Dr. Josh Woggon on May 29, 2018

      While I cannot provide specific healthcare advice over the Internet, without having an opportunity to review your x-rays & perform an examination, I can say that a 40 degree curve in the lumbar spine is considered severe, and highly likely to get worse over time. It is possible to decrease scoliosis in an adult, with the right treatment plan; our doctors do it every day! I would encourage you to reach out to a CLEAR doctor near you, and set up a phone or in-person consultation so they can go over your situation in more detail and provide recommendations & advice.

  11. 22
    Tanisha Banerjee on June 4, 2018

    Hello. I am a 13 yr. old girl. I am suffering from Scoliosis. My curvature is S-shaped. My cobb angle is 49° in Thorasic region. I am going for Physiotherapy and Myotherapy. I am doing exercises as well. I have bought Boston brace for myself. Can my Scoliosis be treated without a sugery?

    1. 23
      Dr. Josh Woggon on June 4, 2018

      Typically, surgery is recommended when the Cobb angle exceeds 45 degrees in a teenager; since you’ve already passed this point, your goal should be to reduce your Cobb angle to below 40 degrees. The Boston brace, when worn for the majority of the day, is sometimes effective in preventing the scoliosis from getting worse; however, I am afraid it does not offer much hope in terms of reduction or correction. In regards to physiotherapy, general physiotherapeutic exercises are typically not effective in reducing the severity of a scoliosis. However, scoliosis-specific approaches (such as SEAS, Schroth, and others) offer a much better chance of success. It’s the same way with traditional chiropractic, compared to the scoliosis-specific chiropractic protocols developed by CLEAR. For this reason, I would highly recommend that you seek out a scoliosis-specific treatment program. If possible, please consider utilizing a more advanced brace design (such as a SPoRT or Sforzesco brace, or a Cheneau derivative, or a ScoliBrace). You may also want to contact a CLEAR doctor near you to schedule a consultation to find out if CLEAR treatment is right for you; if there isn’t a CLEAR doctor near you, please click here for more information on what to do. If there is additional information or assistance we might provide, please feel free to reach out to us at (866) 663-7030 or care@clear-institute.org. I wish you all the best of success!

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