It’s not exactly a well-known term, but the word scoliosis is used to describe a condition where the spine deviates from its normal curvature. Most human beings have two natural curves in the spinal column, one of which is at shoulder level and the other in the lower part of the back. People afflicted with scoliosis may have a spine that wavers from side to side or that settles into a particular shape, which may resemble an S or a C shaped curve.
While the condition is often caused by a defect from birth or some kind of genetic condition, there are a range of forms of scoliosis that can broadly be defined as either structural or functional. Functional cases are often caused by the malposition of structures in the spine brought on by poor postural habits, a situation that can often be improved with a series of chiropractic adjustments, specific exercises and the development of better habits. Defining stages of scoliosis is important to get the best treatment.
Stages of scoliosis
Regardless of the form of the condition, scoliosis can be classed into three stages based on the severity of its progression by measuring the degree of the spine’s abnormal curvature. Any spinal curve greater than 10 degrees can be diagnosed as scoliosis. Mild cases measure at 10–25 degrees; moderate cases at 26–40 degrees, and serious curves are misshapen to a curvature of more than 40 degrees.
Each of these stages of scoliosis can be responsible for certain physical limitations in movement, as well as pain and discomfort—and sometimes even problems with other organs of the body. As the mild stages tend to deteriorate towards moderate and serious spinal curvatures, best practice suggests that non-surgical treatment programs should be initiated early, before the spinal curve hits 30 degrees. Mild cases respond far more readily to chiropractic treatment than moderate or serious cases do, meaning that the window of opportunity for nonsurgical intervention can be limited as the condition worsens. Age also plays a factor in treating the condition—children aged from 8–15 will see a much faster result than someone aged 20–40 years old.
Chiropractic doctors routinely achieve success in treating mild functional cases of scoliosis where patients are skeletally mature, or approaching the completion of the adolescent spinal growth spurt—and where the apex of the curve in the spine occurs below the rib cage, where it is naturally more flexible. Spinal curve abnormalities that are short and flexible C-shapes have been shown to respond well to chiropractic treatment, while S-shaped curves tend to require much stricter treatment programs—which include special postural blocks and rehabilitative exercises.
As not all types of scoliosis can be relieved with spinal adjustment, the decision whether or not to seek chiropractic treatment depends on the stage and form of the patient’s condition.
Being the core of their practice, chiropractors are highly informed about the issues, conditions and disorders of the spine. They are skilled in diagnosing scoliosis, and in many cases can provide treatment via spinal manipulation—alongside other nonsurgical procedures—to shift the different parts of the spine manually into their optimal locations along its length.
When seeking chiropractic treatment for scoliosis, it’s important to realise that the condition is not exactly curable, even though its symptoms can be relieved—it’s a condition that requires ongoing care. Chiropractic management of scoliosis can therefore drastically reduce the impact that the condition has on patients’ quality of life.
Most chiropractic treatment programs for scoliosis are designed to intervene in mild forms of the disease, where they can significantly increase a patient’s range of motion and stave off the progression of the disorder. It can also be highly effective in moderate cases if the patient does not typically experience pain or discomfort. In moderate cases where pain is an issue and at more severe stages, chiropractic care can still support medical treatments, which may include surgery.
Customised rehabilitative treatment for mild scoliosis (informed by precision X-rays of the spine) can include targeted stretching, neuromuscular re-education, and active self-correction techniques. Typically, the spine will be “warmed up” for treatment via the use of equipment such as a scoliosis traction chair or spinal decompression table. Following this, a chiropractor will work to ease the spinal curve into better alignment by making instrument-assisted adjustments, applying minimal force to yield the lowest possible discomfort levels during treatment.
Immediately after the adjustment, the treatment is “set,” encouraging the spinal changes to take hold so that they can be built upon in further sessions. Spinal weighting protocols, whole-body vibration therapy and gait retraining can comfortably reinforce the spinal adjustments induced by the chiropractor. The treatment can also be supported with a range of exercises practiced by the patient at home.
Chiropractors can also help patients suffering from scoliosis by recommending other forms of care to relieve or reduce scoliosis pain without the need for drugs or invasive surgery, lifting the pressure on their nerves and strengthening their bodies at the core. They can recommend ways of moving as well as resting positions that can minimize or eliminate pain, exercises that strengthen and support the joints and regulate breathing, and ways to remain active without worsening the condition.
It takes an average of 3–6 months to make a change in moderate cases, while other cases can take longer if there are more variables in play.
In treating scoliosis, a chiropractor will certainly need to reposition joints, but also to guide the patient in keeping the back muscles relaxed, retraining the mind to form new habits of movement compatible with the new alignment. In practical terms, this will involve scoliosis-specific massage, stretching and exercise alongside scoliosis-specific adjustments before a patient’s range of motion is restored to as close to normal as possible.