Scoliosis can develop into a debilitating enough disorder to require treatment. These treatments can be invasive, costly, and risky. It may be possible to explore chiropractic care as an alternative or preventative measure. Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine, curving too much (more like a “C” or “S” shape). Most of the time, it has an unknown cause (also known as “idiopathic scoliosis”). It is categorized by age: infantile, juvenile, or adolescent. It affects girls more, and it can worsen during a growth spurt. The disorder may be asymptomatic, but some people experience lower back pain, uneven hips or uneven shoulders, a tired feeling in the spine, or a spine that curves more to one side. The disorder can be diagnosed by physical exam (where the patient bends forward), spinal curve measurement (scoliometer), X-rays, or MRI.1 “Scoliosis affects 2-3% of the population…and there is no cure”. Although most people do not require treatment, some patients have “pain, reduced respiratory function, or diminished self-esteem”.2
Treatments and Complications
Depending on the cause of the scoliosis, the amount, type, and location of the curve, and if the spine is still growing, treatment varies. Most people do not need treatment, but they should still be monitored twice a year. One of the traditional treatments is a back brace to prevent further curving. They work best for people older than 10, who have idiopathic scoliosis. A more invasive treatment is surgery. The spine would be held by metal rods, hooks, and screws. This involves cutting through the back, abdomen, or under the ribs. Complementary treatments include emotional support and physical therapy. There are many complications related to the spinal disorder including: “breathing problems…low back pain…spinal infection after surgery…spine or nerve damage”.3 Going in for surgery is a serious decision that should not be taken lightly. Of course, surgery is necessary in some cases, but everyone should seek alternative treatment options first. The invasiveness of the procedure, potential complications, cost, and recovery should be avoided if another option is present and viable. This other option could be treatment provided by a chiropractor and other alternative medical professionals.
Can Chiropractic Help?
Because X-ray exposure, surgery, infection risks, emotional issues, and other complications can result from traditional medical treatments of scoliosis, some have sought alternative care. Anecdotal evidence has shown the chiropractic may be an option for treating the disorder. One researcher, Dr. Charles A. Lantz, D.C., Ph.D., is conducting a research project to see how effective chiropractic can be “in the management of children ages 9-15 with mild to moderate scoliosis”. The National Scoliosis Foundation supports these efforts. Dr. Lantz noted that scoliosis management by chiropractors has typically included adjustments, “exercise and postural counseling”, and now can include electrical stimulation.4 A retrospective study of adults with scoliosis, after exercised-based chiropractic treatment, showed “improvements in pain, Cobb angle, and disability” both after the treatment and two years later. It will take more formal research, but anecdotal studies have shown the promise of chiropractic and rehabilitative care in the treatment of idiopathic scoliosis.5 Stretches and exercises may be performed to restore some of the imbalances of scoliosis to proper alignment. Stretching in both the same direction that the spine unnaturally curves and stretching against the curve could both be beneficial to the realignment process. Stretching with the curve could cause the muscle to pull back and shorten, which is good because scoliosis affects the central nervous system’s ability to help the contraction and shortening of muscles. Stretching in the opposite direction is to assist the muscles that have gone lax from the extended period of time stretched improperly. The upward and downward dog stretch helps as long as the hips and spine are kept as straight as possible without causing too much discomfort. Another exercise is split stance with arm reach. The exercise begins with the longer leg in front of the body in a slightly exaggerated stride length. The longer leg is determined by which leg looks longer when the patient is lying down. Keeping the torso as upright as possible at all times, the patient will then begin shifting their weight back and forth, allowing the forward knee to bend when the weight is shifted to it. While the weight is forward, the arm opposite the forward leg should be raised as high as possible. Meanwhile, the other arm should be back with the palm up as much as possible. This exercise is only performed on one side. Two to three sets of five to ten reps can be performed throughout the day.6
Massage for Scoliosis
Massage therapy is another treatment option available for recovery from scoliosis. Cranial-sacral therapy mobilizes the fascia and enhances the body’s mobility, which could bring balance to the spine. Deep tissue massage, along with neuromuscular therapy and techniques of assisted stretching to hypertonic muscles aids local circulation. This brings relief from muscular pain and relaxes the spine by elongating tightened areas. Scoliosis treatment is much more effective for patients below the age of 25. It is not impossible for a body older than 25 to change, but the process will be slower.7 Massage, exercises, and chiropractic may all work together to help patients recover from scoliosis.