Teen Scoliosis Patients Closer To Curve With Specialised Therapy

In Medical & Diagnostic

Anyone struggling with scoliosis understands all too well how painful the condition can be. People with scoliosis, an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine, are mostly adolescent and female. The most common signs of scoliosis include trunk and pelvis asymmetry, a rib and a lumbar hump, as well as a prominent shoulder and/or hip. As scoliosis progresses, the symptoms, such as back pain, problems breathing, osteoarthritis, psychological issues, and a decreased quality of life surface.

Now a new study from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine into the therapeutic benefits of specialized physical therapy holds out fresh hope for teens suffering from the affliction.

The study showed teens with scoliosis that undergo specialized physical therapy exercises can improve the curve of the spine, muscle endurance and their quality of life.

As Sanja Schreiber from the University of Alberta explained, “Currently patients diagnosed with scoliosis are either monitored for progression, treated with a brace, or, in severe cases, offered surgery.” Schreiber went on to explain, Our study showed that 88 percent of patients who did the Schroth physiotherapeutic scoliosis-specific exercises showed improvements or prevented progression in their scoliosis curves over six months compared to 60 percent in the group receiving only standard of care.”

One of the participants in the study was 14-year-old Ava who has worn a brace for her scoliosis since she was 11. Thanks to the scoliosis-specific exercises, Ava has experienced less pain, enjoyed greater confidence and had more control over her own body. Ava summarised her experience as part of the study as being, “I don’t have to look like I’m crooked for the rest of my life. I now have control over my own body,” she said. “While my brace is very important, the exercises have helped me change my outlook on my condition.”

Published in PLOS ONE, the randomized control trial covered 50 adolescents with scoliosis aged 10 to 18 years with curves of 10 to 45 degrees. After six months of targeted physiotherapy, comprising 30 to 45 minutes of daily home and weekly-supervised sessions, 88 percent of patients either had improving curves or remained within 5 degrees of their baseline curve. During this time, the average curve amongst the control group participants deteriorated by 2.3 degrees.

“These short-term results are clinically significant and show that Schroth physiotherapy exercises could help many patients with scoliosis if this type of conservative management is added to the standard of care,” said Eric Parent, associate professor of physical therapy, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Schreiber has spent most of her career looking conservative treatment that will correct scoliosis. “I’ve even tried general corrective exercises, yoga, and pilates,” she said. “It’s hard when a young teenager gets diagnosed with scoliosis and is told they will either wear a brace all the time or get surgery when the curve becomes severe enough, more than 45 degrees.”

Schreiber continued, “The current standard of care for smaller curves is very much ‘wait and see’ while parents and patients demand a more proactive approach. I’d like to encourage them to ‘try and see.’ Try Schroth and see if it helps. Not only in our study, but also in my clinical practice, I’ve seen so many teens who have experienced pain improvement and feel better overall with Schroth exercises. Also, they feel they are in control of their scoliosis, because the Schroth method teaches them how to stand, sit, walk, and do other daily activities correctly so that they can keep their best posture. It’s just better quality of life overall.”

Ave wore a brace every day for over a year and experienced significant pain trying to hold herself upright. While the Schroth exercises were hard work, Ave thought the results of her effort were encouraging, “I used to get a lot of pain and felt really weak without my brace. Now I have gained strength and hold myself up with my own muscles,” she said.

The study also indicated the Schroth approach had positive effects on pain, body image, and muscle endurance. “The Schroth group showed improved muscle endurance by increasing the average holding time by 32.3 seconds after three months, while the controls increased by only 4.8 seconds,” said Parent.

For Ava, a shift in perspective was her take away from the experience, “I used to think I’d be this way forever and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. But now I have control over my own body, and I know I don’t have to feel that kind of pain for the rest of my life.”