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Physical Therapy and Scoliosis: A Q&A

Health Hub
Author name: Lee Health

Scoliosis graphic

The Greek physician Hippocrates first documented scoliosis as a spinal condition in 400 B.C. The word scoliosis comes from the ancient Greek word “scolios,” meaning “crookedness.”

Nowadays, scoliosis describes a condition that causes the spine to curve abnormally and rotate in three-dimensionally, which occurs in about 2 to 4 percent of the population.

Despite significant advances in public health and medical care across centuries, there’s still no effective treatment to cure scoliosis. However, many therapies have been developed to reduce its adverse effects.

This June, National Scoliosis Awareness Month highlights the growing need for education, early detection and awareness about scoliosis and its prevalence.

Lee Health outpatient physical therapist Diana Rippl, of Lee Health’s new scoliosis program, offers expert guidance for people who suffer from spinal curvatures and wonder where and how to get appropriate treatment to improve the shape of their spine.

“Early detection is key in preventing progression of adolescent scoliotic curvatures, which can lead to significant medical problems and disability,” Diana says. “It’s important to know the signs and symptoms, that an examination and X-ray can confirm the diagnosis, and that an expert can recommend treatment, if necessary.”

Diana says adult scoliosis has a different progression and usually worsens as adults age and degeneration takes over. “We commonly see adults over age 50 who never knew they had scoliosis or only had a mild case, start to progress in the curve angle of their spines and develop pain.”

Diana adds that it’s also important to know the most appropriate type of physical therapy to treat scoliosis.

Adult scoliosis can progress rapidly and dramatically if individuals aren’t shown the proper techniques to correct the posture and slow the progression.

“When done safely with a scoliosis-certified physical therapist, scoliosis-specific exercises specifically tailored to each person’s condition can help lengthen and strengthen the muscles that support the spine and increase the spine’s ability to elongate,” she says. “An effective program may halt the progression of the condition while improving quality of life.”

In adolescents with scoliosis, the goal is to slow the progression to prevent three-dimensional (3D) curve deformity while in adults, the goal is to improve posture, and reduce pain and disability.

Lee Health physical therapists are specially trained to provide a variety of treatment programs for scoliosis treatment and management, including the Schroth Method.

But how do you know which program is right for you? To get you started on the right track, Diana answers a few of our questions.

Q: What does a physical therapy session look like?

A: Specific physical therapy will include teaching principles of lengthening, positioning and 3D opening. We use breathing to fill in the inside of the concave areas of the ribs, like opening the dented areas of a soda can from the inside out. We teach each person how to sit, stand, walk and sleep in positions that are unique to their curve and to offload asymmetrical loading of the spine and trunk. We use props of sticks, bags, wedges and a wall ladder along with mirrors and belts to assist in treatment and positioning.

 Q: How will I know my physical therapy program is working?

A: We take measurements of spinal rotation and forward bending in standing to compare results. We can use pictures of positioning and a posture grid to measure alignment.

Q: Will chiropractic treatment help my scoliosis? 

A: Bracing is the most effective form of scoliosis treatment in conjunction with therapy and sometimes surgery if the curve has progressed too far structures are too damaged.   

Q: Will acupuncture help treat and manage my back problems?

A: Acupuncture and physical therapy dry needling for adults can be a great adjunct for pain control and muscle tightness.  

Q: Will Pilates make my scoliosis or back problems better? 

A: Pilates can be a great exercise treatment once the patient knows their curve type and their modifications. Pilates helps to lengthen the spine and prevent further rotation. Pilates works the body three-dimensionally and instructors are trained in the this so it makes the exercise program complementary to the goals of reducing spinal compression and rotation.

Consult a scoliosis schroth therapist for more questions. Email Diana.rippl@leehealth.org

Learn more about scoliosis at this virtual event, offered by Lee Health Coconut Point

Lee Health certified physical therapist Caleb Holtzmann will show you how to keep your spine healthy and happy. You can attend this virtual event through WebEx on your computer, laptop, or smart phone.

When: Wed., June 15, 10-11 a.m.

How: RSVP for this virtual event