For many years there has been a great deal of research into effective exercised based methodologies for treating scoliosis. Often when scoliosis patients and healthcare professionals think of exercise for scoliosis, they think of generalised approaches to exercise like Pilates, Yoga, core stability and general stretching and strengthening of muscles. While these activities can improve body function and performance, they have no effect on the prevention or control of scoliosis.
Thankfully there are two specially developed exercised based programs which are specifically proven to reduce the progression of, and eventually help to correct, scoliosis. These are the Schroth and SEAS approaches.
What is scoliosis specific exercise?
Scoliosis specific exercises are specially designed routines, customised for each patient, which aim to oppose the curvature of scoliosis – stopping it from progressing, and with time, helping to reduce the curve.
At the core of scoliosis-specific exercise, a patient must learn how to self-correct their specific curve and posture to the best of their ability and then maintain the self-corrected posture in everyday life. Exercises are directed at moving the spine in the opposite direction to which it is positioned and then strengthening the neuro-muscular system in that improved position.
There are two main types – SEAS and Schroth.
Like most forms of exercise-based treatment, the Scientific Exercise Approach To Scoliosis – SEAS – consists of an individualised exercise program adapted for the purpose of treating scoliosis. SEAS treatment is often used as a stand-alone approach in small curves, and also frequently as a compliment to bracing with large curves and where there is a significant risk of progression.
The objective of SEAS exercise is to promote self-correction of the scoliotic posture, using exercises which are often incorporated into a broader exercise program designed to improve overall function and lessen the symptoms of scoliosis.
Unlike other therapies, the SEAS methodology is constantly evolving, so seeking out a practitioner who demonstrates familiarity with the latest research is especially important.
The Schroth method is one of the longest established treatment methods for scoliosis across the board. The method was developed by Katharina Schroth (a scoliosis sufferer) who wanted a more proactive approach to improving some of the functional issue associated with scoliosis – Schroth therapy was made available by Katharina as early as 1921.
The Schroth method itself is comprised of more than 100 individual exercises, which are chosen and organised individually for each patient. A Schroth program usually consists of 6-8 core exercises which are specifically targeted for the curve in question. This is because the Schroth method recognises that what’s appropriate for the common 3-curve, right thoracic scoliosis, for example, would not work for the 4-curve variety.
Schroth therapy goes beyond other methodologies in that it seeks to provide an approach which actively works to arrest and improve scoliosis during everyday life, rather than just during targeted exercise sessions.
While both approaches exist as independent programs, it is possible and indeed common to use aspects of both in tailoring an individual exercise program for the individual.
The Chiropractic Biophysics (CBP) technique is also a beneficial treatment approach as an element of a scoliosis rehabilitation plan. Unlike traditional chiropractic treatment, it involves a complex biomechanical analysis of the spine and posture and its shift away from normal structural alignment. Treatment is based upon shifting the spine and posture back to its normal alignment by moving the body into the Mirror Image position i.e. the opposite position to which the body is in. There are case studies that show CBP to be effective in treating non-progressive scoliosis in adults, however it is not strong enough to be used as a standalone methodology in the treatment of progressive scoliosis in children and adolescents – CBP can be highly effective as a form a pain relief in such progressive cases, however.
Is scoliosis specific exercise effective?
Physiotherapy based scoliosis specific exercise programmes have been extensively researched in recent years and have now been shown to be effective in the management of small curves i.e. 10-20 degrees in adolescence. When adolescent curves are greater than 20 degrees, exercise is no longer regarded as being strong enough as a sole treatment for scoliosis, but it helps to improve the effectiveness of long-term results in combination with bracing.
When scoliosis specific exercise programs are combined with bracing, they help to improve muscular balance and strength, spinal flexibility and neuromuscular co-ordination. Scoliosis specific exercise programmes have also been shown to aid in improving postural symmetry and reducing pain in adults with scoliosis.
Scoliosis specific exercise at the UK Scoliosis Clinic
At the UK Scoliosis clinic, we offer individually tailored scoliosis specific exercise programs, either a standalone treatment or as an element of a wider treatment plan involving bracing and complementary approaches.
It is critical to remember that an effective scoliosis exercise and rehabilitation programme is never “one size fits all”. While some clinics offer an “off the peg” approach to scoliosis specific exercise, this is far from the optimal way to provide this treatment. Scoliosis specific exercise programs need to be regularly reviewed, updated and modified to ensure continuous improvement for the patient. This is why at the UK Scoliosis Clinic we tailor all our programs to the individual needs and ability of the patient. Each constituent approach has its benefits, limitations and most importantly time commitments which must be carefully balanced for optimum results.