If you or your child has been diagnosed with scoliosis, you’re likely wondering how you can prevent the need for surgery or a brace. While scoliosis isn’t technically curable, it is treatable — by relaxing your muscles, realigning your spinal joints, and retraining your brain, you can prevent your scoliosis from worsening, and live a life free from back pain.
What is scoliosis?
The term scoliosis refers to any abnormal curvature of the spine. There are three types of scoliosis; the most common is idiopathic, often discovered in children. What we mean by idiopathic is that the cause is unknown, often due to a combination of environmental influences and genetic predisposition.
The other two types are congenital and degenerative. Congenital scoliosis is a birth defect, occurring early in pregnancy and generally not noticeable at birth — for about 75% of children, their congenital scoliosis gets worse, showing up sometime between toddlerhood and adolescence. It is unpreventable and is different in that vertebrae are misshapen, rather than out of place.
Degenerative scoliosis is often preventable, as it is caused either by trauma or bad posture over time. While trauma is unpreventable itself, you do have control over your posture — long-term lopsided activities, such as carrying a heavy bag over one shoulder — often lead to degenerative scoliosis. Decreasing bone density is another cause.
How do you treat scoliosis?
There are several factors determining treatment, including patient age and bone age (bone maturation is not always the same as your chronological age), degree and location of curve, status of puberty, gender, worsening curvature, and any associated symptoms, such as back pain.
Depending on these factors, recommended treatment may include ongoing monitoring, bracing, and sometimes surgery. Degenerative scoliosis, or adult scoliosis, is most treatable through chiropractic methods.
What does chiropractic scoliosis treatment look like?
Unless you have congenital scoliosis, the curvature in your spine is due to the location of your joints being off. Treatment repositions them, although several things need to happen altogether in order for repositioning to occur.
Different from your typical spa massage, a scoliosis massage focuses on deep tissue healing. When your spine is imbalanced, it creates imbalance in the amount of work your neck, back, and lower body muscles have to do — creating tension. Scoliosis massage relaxes those muscles, relieving any pain as well as loosening them along with the spine for adjustments to be made. Loose, relaxed muscles allow for change, versus tight muscles that counteract any adjustments by pulling your spine back into its accustomed position.
Similar to massage, scoliosis stretches are meant to loosen and relax your muscles on a regular basis. Your chiropractor will work with you to recommend and train you on particular stretches, with a special focus on balancing both sides of your body. With scoliosis, one side must perform more work, becoming tighter, while the other side becomes weaker, needing strengthening.
It’s important to maintain your stretching practice as part of your ongoing scoliosis care — remember, scoliosis cannot be cured, but it can be treated and the degree of curvature prevented from worsening.
This is also part of retraining your brain to use your muscles differently than before — this must happen along with repositioning your spinal joints in order for treatment to be effective and remain effective.
Along with regular stretching, regular weight-bearing exercise can help strengthen and balance the muscles surrounding and supporting your spine. Your chiropractor will work with you to set a customized exercise plan, but recommended exercise can include yoga and pilates with a focus on balance training, vibration therapy, and strength-training.