Years ago, at a routine check-up, my doctor informed me that I have a common condition called Scoliosis. It’s so common, in fact, that between six to nine million people in America have it as well. She explained it as a slight curve in my spine that would be closely monitored, without further treatment. If it got worse, she would reconsider; if not, we would leave it alone. The “wait and see” approach is among one of the most common for this condition, otherwise it can be treated with a brace or in severe cases, surgery. The clinical definition of scoliosis is a lateral misalignment of the spine, generally in an “S” or “C” shape. Symptoms can include pain, muscle spasms, physical deformity, discomfort, and an uneven waist– all depending on the type. The condition can also cause lowered self-esteem which was something I felt often during my earlier years.
The many different types of scoliosis vary by age of onset, cause, and speed of progression. When developed before the age of 10, scoliosis is termed early onset. Any time after 18 is called late adult onset and the time in between is grouped as adolescent onset. Each type of scoliosis, varying by onset, fits into one of five categories: idiopathic, neuromuscular, functional, degenerative and congenital. Idiopathic scoliosis, by far the most common, has unknown causes and is usually seen in adolescents; There is no one specific factor that lead to it’s development. The next, neuromuscular scoliosis, is caused as an effect of a neurological or muscular disease, like muscular dystrophy. While it does develop quickly, these people do not generally feel pain unless the curve has become extremely distinct. Also developed due to a problem somewhere else in the body is functional scoliosis. An example of this would be uneven leg lengths causing an abnormal curve in the spine. The rarest type of them all is congenital scoliosis, developed in the womb and affecting only 1 out of every 10,000 babies. This particular type is dangerous because the spine is still developing. The bodies of those affected will attempt to compensate for the curve by creating additional curves on the antipodal side leading to contorted ribs and sometimes interrupted lung development. Finally, opposing congenital scoliosis by onset age is degenerative scoliosis; It shows up much later in life, caused by arthritis or disc degeneration. Generally, only adults past the age of 55 will experience this type of the condition. Regardless of the type, scoliosis is best managed through treatment.
As previously mentioned, treatments for scoliosis usually involve a brace or surgery. The key to any treatment, however, is starting early and the reason is simple: the earlier you start, the smaller the curve will be. Allowing the curve to grow will increase symptoms and pain, if any at all. Although invasive, surgery is sometimes necessary if the curving has gotten too large and bracing is not working. Bracing, however, is not only used as a precursor to surgery. They can either be used after surgery to maintain posture and allow correct bone development or used on its own for the same reasons. Braces, however, can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, and sometimes ineffective. An alternative to consider before bracing or surgery is physical therapy. While the options can be used together, if the scoliosis is mild, physical therapy alone can be a less obtrusive selection. Its main goal is to improve flexibility, tone and strength as well as reduce inflammation. Doctors with experience in scoliosis treatment are important to use because they understand the physical an emotional aspects scoliosis patient can endure. One doctor in particular has discovered a new regimen that takes scoliosis therapy to new levels.
Dr. Sanja Schreiber from the University of Alberta has created a 30 to 45-minute home program that will improve spinal curve, muscle endurance and confidence in teens with scoliosis. Her method is called the Schroth physiotherapeutic scoliosis-specific exercise and almost 90 percent of patients using it have experienced its benefits. The program focuses not only on the exercises but on re-correcting every day activities in order to retrain the body to favor better form. After only a short six months, some patients saw curve improvement at more than 5 degrees from their baseline. The overall difference between the experimental and control groups were almost 4 degrees of spinal curve and about 28 seconds of average holding time for muscle endurance. Patients in the experimental group also gained greater confidence and body image outlook. Had this method been around when I was a teenager, it may have saved me years of pain and embarrassment.
The Schroth method allows patients to gain control of their condition and get ahead of the curve. No longer do we simply hope for maintenance, now we hope for improvements without being disconcerting or inconvenient. Dr. Schreiber and her team have changed the conversation from “let’s wait” to “let’s try”. Now more clinics are offering scoliosis treatment and discovering new ways to prevent and progress. I feel fortunate to work at 360 Physical Therapy and Wellness where keeping up with new research and finding innovative ways to treat patients is a priority. Whether it be scoliosis treatment or Parkinson’s disease, we are finding new ways to help others and minimize their struggles. Inspired by doctors like Sanja Schreiber, we modify our own techniques to keep up with a growing field. New patients bring new conditions, and we are prepared to take each one head on.
Davis, Charles Patrick. “Scoliosis Treatment, Causes, Symptoms & Surgery.” MedicineNet, http://www.medicinenet.com/scoliosis/article.htm#what_is_the_treatment_for_scoliosis_continued
McMahon, Mary, and O. Wallace. “What Is Scoliosis Physical Therapy?” WiseGEEK, Conjecture Corporation, 9 Mar. 2018, http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-scoliosis-physical-therapy.htm
Stitzel. “7 Types of Scoliosis & Their Differences [Comprehensive Guide].” ScoliSMART Blog, 29 Nov. 2017, http://www.treatingscoliosis.com/blog/scoliosis-types-differences/
University of Alberta. “Specialized physical therapy helps teens with scoliosis get ahead of the curve.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 January 2017.