Scoliosis: Is There Help?
by Eric Winder, DC
Over 4 million people in the United States have scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, and the majority experience pain as a result. However, the pain of scoliosis in both adults and children can often be greatly relieved, allowing for a better quality of life. Also, in children, the curvature can often be reduced or stopped from progressing further.
In my practice, the main focus for helping patients with scoliosis is treatment of restrictions in fascia. This connective tissue contains millions of nerve endings that give us “position sense,” telling our brains where the body parts are in space. Scoliosis, with its abnormal curve of the spine, is considered a problem of proper position sense, or proprioception.
While the most common form of this problem, called idiopathic scoliosis, is poorly understood, my clinical experience is that problems with restricted fascia play a large role in causing this spinal distortion and especially the pain it causes. Restricted fascia can distort normal proprioception, contributing to the improper alignment found in a scoliotic spine.
A large proportion of scoliosis cases begin in either childhood or adolescence. Many cases are found by a school nurse in routine screening programs. In mild cases, conventional medical care can be utilized to simply monitor the curve to ensure it doesn’t worsen through an X-ray taken every six months.
If a curve becomes more severe, physical therapy with stretching and exercises might be used to stop the curve from getting worse, and this can be helpful. A brace worn to support the spine can also stop the curve from progressing. However, in some cases, these treatments do not help, and the curve continues to increase. If the scoliosis gets severe enough, surgery that places supportive metal rods next to the spine will often be recommended.
In my experience, while stretching and specific exercises are important for treatment, addressing the restricted fascia is the most critical part of treating non-surgical scoliosis. In children younger than 16, I have never seen a curve get worse after fascial treatment has been started. In many cases, I have seen children’s curvatures improve up to 20 degrees and, in a few mild childhood cases, the scoliosis has been eliminated completely.
Scoliosis in most adults starts in their youth, but there are some situations where the curvature develops after adulthood. Sometimes trauma, surgeries and other medical issues can trigger scoliosis to develop. Regardless of the origin, adults with scoliosis are even more likely to have spinal pain than children with the same problem. In fact, more than three quarters of adults with this problem experience back pain.
Many of these patients come to my practice feeling like they have run out of options for finding relief and regaining their quality of life. However, successful treatment of scoliosis pain in adults is similar to that in children, and the results are also excellent. The focus is on fascia release, gentle stretching by a therapist and specific exercises. Although the curvature typically cannot be reduced in adults, pain relief is still quite successful.
An illustrative example is a 78-year-old woman whom I’ll call June, who was brought somewhat reluctantly to my practice by a good friend. She had experienced a lifetime of pain from her severe scoliosis that caused a visible deformity to her posture. Her pain had increased greatly in recent months, but she did not want to be dependent on prescription pain relievers that were not reducing her pain.
Every patient is unique, but overall June’s treatment was similar to most cases of scoliosis I see. She received manual therapy to release fascial restriction, along with gentle stretching and exercises. Over time, her pain was reduced from 10 out of 10 (where 10 is equated to unbearable pain) to averaging three out of 10 which she found greatly improved her quality of life.
Most adults can experience enormous relief of pain and discomfort, despite not improving the actual curvature of their scoliosis. Fascial therapies to remove restriction in connective tissue can greatly decrease muscle spasm, joint restriction and painful motion. Some people with scoliosis will need occasional “tune-ups” because their curvatures cause new restrictions to develop. How often these wellness visits are needed varies from person to person, but once the pain relief is achieved an occasional tune-up is usually all that is needed to keep pain at bay.
It is my hope that more practitioners will begin to explore fascial treatment in the care of scoliosis. The benefits can be profound for people who experience pain from spinal curvature. When people can achieve pain relief without powerful drugs, it’s a major success for both their health and overall lifestyle.
Dr. Eric Winder has been practicing chiropractic for 20 years, with a focus on fascial treatment and soft tissue therapies for the past 17 years. Dr. Winder’s practice focuses on relieving pain and restoring alignment and motion through soft tissue therapies without forceful manipulation. For more information, call 941-957-8390 or visit GentleBay.com.