Did you know that scoliosis is the No. 1 spinal problem among children and adolescents? It’s true, as this spinal disorder affects up to 5 percent of school-aged children. Furthermore, about 2 percent to 3 percent of the general population has some form of scoliosis, but there is good news. Research shows that scoliosis exercises, supplemented with diet and lifestyle changes, can help treat this condition.
This is particularly important, because after diagnoses, many patients and their concerned families are given one of three scoliosis treatment options: either “wait and watch” the spine for progression, use spinal bracing or undergo surgery — all of which pose risks and don’t always solve the underlying problem.
Scoliosis causes the spine to abnormally curve in an S- or C-shaped way, but normally no treatment is initially prescribed for scoliosis or action taken until the Cobb angle of the spine has progressed to 25 degrees. (1) This is called the “watch and wait” period and consists only of regular visits to an orthopedic surgeon along with frequent X-rays to monitor progress. The problem is that during this time a patient could benefit most from chiropractic adjustments, therapeutic spinal exercises or nonsurgical interventions because the disorder is still in its mild stages.
For scoliosis patients to make the best decision about their treatment plans, they ultimately need to have all the necessary information available to them — plus also realize that surgery and bracing cannot be undone. Spinal surgery is permanent, and a patient cannot regain lost time due to watching or waiting. It’s also very difficult to fix muscles that have gotten weaker due to bracing or reverse body compensations and complications that often occur with scoliosis.
Compared to traditional treatment approaches, chiropractic care is now one area that offers a lot of hope for scoliosis patients. It’s been proved to help stop curvature progression, relieve back pain and improve quality of life in several key ways, all with fewer risks and usually at a lower cost too. So before you embark on these traditional treatments, try the following scoliosis exercises and natural treatment plan.
The CLEAR Institute’s Protocol for Scoliosis Exercises
Recent research done by the CLEAR Institute followed 140 patients from ages 9 to 84 with Cobb angles ranging from 5 to 109. The doctors at the institute performed in-house chiropractic or osteopathic manipulative therapy, and patients demonstrated an average reduction of 37.7 percent in the spinal curvature after just 12 visits. (2)
During this brief period of treatment, 23 out of 140 patients were no longer classified as having clinically diagnosable scoliosis, showcasing just how much your chiropractor could be your new antioxidant.
Scoliosis exercises taught and offered by the CLEAR Institute help actually retrain the brain and strengthen the core and spine, helping everything work together. The treatments target various abnormalities experienced with scoliosis, including: neuroanatomical abnormalities of the corticospinal tract, loss of sensations, reflex mechanisms, abnormal reflex processing and disordered postural equilibrium. The goal of the chiropractic manipulative therapy is to ultimately reduce mechanical compression and restore normality of the spine using innovative concepts, such as whole-body vibration and advanced spinal weighting techniques.
CLEAR calls its trademarked protocol “mix, fix, set,” which the doctors describe as being similar to the process of baking bread. After the “dough” (spine) is loosened up, it needs specific adjusting with a precise machine. Then “the bread” is put into the oven to be set, which is done with exercising and spinal weight procedures. The whole process improves the body’s posture and balance and retrains how the brain activates different muscles in response to gravity.
How the CLEAR Institute’s Treatment Protocol Works:
- MIX: This involves using a wobble chair to pump nutrients into the spinal discs and increases spinal flexibility. Tissues are warmed so everything becomes more pliable and the spine is better prepared. Vibratory traction is also used to relax the spinal ligaments, tendons and discs.
- FIX: The doctor then directs the spine into proper alignment through safe and effective spinal adjustments. Adjustments are designed for each patient from 41 different measurements and 23 different angles the doctor has determined from the initial X-ray exam.
- SET: The final step accelerates healing and re-educates the brain to hold the new corrected spinal position. This is done using precise spinal weighting and exercise systems and specific isometric spinal exercises for the head, shoulder and hips. This helps the nerves become reprogrammed and makes the corrections permanent.
Here’s how the scoliosis exercises and manipulations are administered:
- Traditional methods of scoliosis treatment (bracing and surgery) are considered “passive” therapies because the patient has the procedures done to them. However, the CLEAR Institute’s method, by comparison, is considered an “active” process. The doctor teaches the patient how to do the procedures, and the patient does them on his or her own.
- Two main types of treatment plans are offered: a standardized 4.5-month treatment program or a customized two-week intensive care treatment program, which requires a four-month post-treatment home stabilization program.
- Each patient is different in terms of how long it takes to see improvements, but on average patients see initial results within just four to 12 weeks. Many patients show progress after four weeks/12 visits, especially with intensive care. Some patients have been found to have a 30 percent correction in just two weeks when undergoing daily treatments.
- The average number of treatments is three treatment appointments per week for a period of six weeks, followed by two treatment appointments per week for a period of 12 weeks. Each visit is about two hours long, since the “mix, fix, set” process happens in stages.
- Even after treatments are complete, it’s important for the patient to participate in his/her own treatment plan at home and attend regular checkups. Treating scoliosis isn’t a passive process, and the success of the patient’s outcome depends a lot on the willingness to be involved and consistent.
- The cost of treatment is a big concern for scoliosis patients. The CLEAR Institute’s research has found that almost $2 billion is spent annually on scoliosis treatments in the U.S. alone. It’s considered a chronic, lifelong problem and not a cheap thing to fix. Even natural scoliosis treatments shouldn’t be considered a quick fix or a one-time cure, although they tend to offer a lot more in terms of return and improvements in quality of life.
- Every CLEAR clinic is independent and responsible for setting its own fees, but on average the cost of treatment is significantly less expensive than bracing, with a much better expected outcome. Many insurance companies cover as much as 60 percent to 70 percent of the total cost of treatments as well.
Patient Participation in Treating Scoliosis
What can you expect in terms of your commitment to a natural scoliosis treatment program long term?
Specific spinal isometric exercises to stabilize the spine are needed after in-office treatments, which are done at home by the patient themselves. The method of scoliosis correction taught by CLEAR Institute does not work without the participation of the patient. In other words, the correction achieved by any doctor is not be permanent without the patient’s commitment to rehabilitating the muscles and ligaments of the spine that have deformed over time in response to the scoliosis.
You can think of the active involvement from patients as part of their scoliosis treatment plan as being comparable to dental hygiene and seeing a dentist. You visit your dentist regularly and have cleanings or other procedures done, but you’re still responsible for brushing your own teeth, plus flossing, etc., at the end of the day to maintain dental health.
The average routine of home scoliosis exercises takes about 90 minutes in the beginning and usually less as time goes on and the spine stabilizers more. This routine can be broken up into segments and can also be done while doing homework, watching TV, etc. Checkups are also important to monitor progress and vary from person to person. Sometimes they’re needed once a month, other times just once yearly.
Dietary Approach to Treating Scoliosis
On top of visiting a chiropractor and practcing at-home exercises, you want to follow an anti-inflammatory diet full of anti-inflammatory foods as much as possible. Nutritional therapy shouldn’t be overlooked in the treatment plan of spinal problems. One of the reasons this is true is because a poor diet is a contributing cause to both scoliosis and body-wide inflammation — which is the root cause of most diseases and can manifest in all sorts of symptoms.
What does it mean to eat a nutrient-dense diet? This usually means reducing or eliminating the amount of processed/packaged foods in the diet, adding in a variety of fresh whole foods, lowering sugar intake, including gut-healing probiotics and taking supplements when necessary. This reduces body-wide inflammation and takes a lot of the burden off of damaged tissue in the spine.
Try to include as many of these foods in your diet as possible:
- High-fiber foods: Plant-based foods are naturally high in fiber, which is needed for proper gut health and detoxification.
- Fresh vegetables (all kinds): Aim for variety and a minimum of four to five servings per day.
- Whole pieces of fruit (not juice): Three to four servings per day are good for most people.
- Anti-inflammatory herbs, spices and teas: Turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, etc., plus green tea and organic coffee in moderation are good.
- Probiotic foods: Help restore gut health and turn off inflammation. Include yogurt, kombucha, kvass, kefir or cultured veggies.
- “Clean lean protein”: Wild-caught fish, cage-free eggs and grass-fed/pasture-raised meats are higher in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D than farm-raised varieties and great protein foods packed with healthy fats and essential nutrients like zinc, iron, selenium and B vitamins.
- Healthy fats: These help balance hormones and lower inflammation. Use grass-fed butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts/seeds, etc.
- Ancient grains and legumes/beans: It’s best to consume these when sprouted and 100 percent unrefined/whole.
- Bone broth: It contains collagen, which helps maintain healthy joints, plus helps treat the lining of the gut.
Lower or eliminate these foods which further promote inflammation:
- Refined vegetable oils (like canola, corn and soybean oils, which are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids)
- Pasteurized dairy products (common allergens) and conventional meat, poultry and eggs, which contain added hormones, antibiotics and omega-6s that contribute to inflammation
- Refined carbohydrates and processed grain products and added sugars (found in the majority of packaged snacks, breads, condiments, canned items, cereals, etc.)
- Trans fats/hydrogenated fats (used in packaged/processed products and often to fry foods)
Supplements that Help Treat Scoliosis
Aside from adjusting your diet to include more nutrients, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, the most important supplements for scoliosis include:
- Vitamin D3: It’s important for growth, development and maintaining bone density.
- Magnesium: A high percentage of patients with scoliosis appear to have magnesium deficiencies. Magnesium is important for muscle, bone and spinal health, which is why low magnesium levels are tied to muscle spasms/ painful muscle contractions, fractures, and osteoporosis and osteopenia.
- Omega-3 fish oil: It’s a natural anti-inflammatory that helps reduce pain and aids healing.
- Essential oils: Anti-inflammatory oils like frankincense oil can be applied topically on the spine to ease pain and speed up healing.
- Anti-inflammatory supplements like turmeric (which contains the active ingredient curcumin) and methylsulfonlmethane/MSM, a powerful supplement taken about 500 milligrams three times daily, can be used for lowering chronic pain, inflammation, and symptoms related to arthritis and osteoporosis.
Facts About Scoliosis Treatment
- The average cost of scoliosis bracing can be around $10,000 over the course of just a few years. (3) About 23 percent to 50 percent of patients who wear spinal braces for scoliosis still end up needing to undergo spinal fusion surgery. (4, 5)
- According to researchers from the American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists, bracing in adolescents causes both physical and psychological concerns, such as respiratory problems and anxiety. Those with scoliosis are 50 percent more likely to report being less healthy overall, 97 percent more likely to worry that their bodies were developing abnormally, have a 79 percent greater concern about the quality of peer relationships, have a 94 percent greater alcohol consumption and are more than 10 times more likely to have thoughts of suicide than those without scoliosis. (6)
- Whether spinal bracing helps stop progression or not, all corrective benefits are lost very quickly once the patient stops wearing the brace. Some studies have even found that some children need surgery even more often after having spinal bracing.
- Surgery to treat scoliosis can cost around a whopping $140,000! About 20 percent (one in five) patients who undergo surgery will need more than one operation. Given the option to go back in time and choose another path, one study found that about 38 percent of patients who had spinal surgery said they would have avoided it.
- Spinal exercises and targeted therapies are making a big impact for many scoliosis patients. Working with a chiropractor, plus performing scoliosis exercises on their own time, patients are able to help stop scoliosis curvature from progressing and preventing the need for surgery.
- A major difference between scoliosis exercises as treatment versus bracing or surgery is that the participant remains very active and involved. In other words, “the degree of participation determines the degree of improvement.”
What’s Wrong with Conventional Treatments for Scoliosis?
As the American Chiropractor website puts it, “The standard medical treatment for scoliosis is to watch and wait from 10 to 25 degrees, to brace it at 25 degrees and to perform surgery at 40 degrees.”(7) My advice, and the advice of many other chiropractors, is to take advantage of the time period when scoliosis is still considered mild to avoid spinal surgery at all costs, which is still the conventional treatment option most offered today.
Spinal Bracing for Scoliosis: Does It Work?
- Bracing does not change the course of scoliosis or correct the underlying problem; it attempts to keep it from getting worse. Bracing is a big commitment — often requiring being worn 23 hours every day — but it still commonly fails to stop progression.
- Bracing (including those called thoraco-lumbo-sacral orthosis or cervico-thoraco-lumbo-sacral orthosis) essentially forces the spine into a straight position. (8) What bracing (or surgery and most manipulations) don’t correct is the cervical and lumbar lordosis, and therefore complete and proper correction of scoliosis isn’t possible. (9)
- A 2007 study found that 23 percent of patients who wore a brace still ended up undergoing spinal fusion surgery in comparison to 22 percent of patients who did nothing.
- Bracing can also be emotionally scarring, especially for children and adolescents, since it commonly causes body image issues, pain, skin and bone problems, and impairment of normal functions. In another research study, 60 percent of the patients treated with braces stated that it handicapped their lives, and 14 percent considered the experience to have left psychological scars.
The Risks of Spinal Surgery for Scoliosis
- Surgery should be considered a last-resort option, since it’s an aggressive, irreversible approach that carries significant risks and possibly long-term repercussions. (10) To treat scoliosis with surgery, parts of the spine must be fused by inserting steel rods and screws, holding the spine upright in a straight alignment. However, this can negatively affect the rest of the back and cause other pain. (11)
- The spine is like a machine or engine that makes the body work, not a stable bridge that should be kept from moving. Surgery doesn’t help retrain any of the compensating muscles and fails to solve the underlying problem. Spinal surgery for scoliosis focuses on correcting sideways bending but does little to address the rotation of the spine (and hence the rib protrusion). It can even cause poorer posture and the rib arch to worsen as the spine becomes less mobile.
- Spinal surgery causes permanent inflexibility and loss of certain functions, so much so that long-term evidence suggests that living with a fused spine may be worse than living with a curved one.
- One study found that 40 percent of patients are legally disabled 16 years after the procedure is performed. (12) After 15 years, patients often report increased difficulty sitting, standing, carrying, bending at the waist, participating in sports, lying on their backs or sides, lifting, performing household chores, and driving a car. (13)
- With surgery, there is also the danger of neurological damage, resulting in the loss of sensation or motor function to the arms and legs (paraplegia or quadriplegia). (14) Another study found that among 74 patients who underwent the surgery, pseudoarthrosis (failed fusion) occurred in 27 percent of patients within a few years after the procedure.
Why Choose a Natural Scoliosis Treatment Approach Instead?
Today, more and more doctors are taking a holistic or “whole life” approach to treating and preventing scoliosis, including scoliosis exercises. Doctors look to correct contributing factors, including low nutrient intake, hormonal imbalances, and mechanical defects in joints, muscles and tissue, which can all contribute to scoliosis. It’s now well-known that biomechanical and neuromuscular factors involved in the progression of scoliosis contribute to a vicious cycle that keeps the disease progressing.
Aside from lowering pain safely and stopping curvature from progressing, it’s also important to diagnose and treat scoliosis to prevent side effects, including:
- Trouble breathing and exercising due to impaired respiratory functions (15)
- Risk for pulmonary hypertension/high blood pressure symptoms and respiratory failure
- Trouble sleeping normally
- Mental health problems and poor body image — as measured by patients responses on questionnaires, those with scoliosis normally have significantly worse scores in regard to their self-image compared to controls
- Loss of functions and quality of life due to back pains — based on responses to questionnaires, even mild scoliosis is linked to trouble carrying out physical activities, particularly in females with curves greater than 40 degrees
One of the most important reasons to treat scoliosis is because it affects lung function and can even result in restrictive lung diseases due to decreased lung volumes in a small percentage of cases. The curvature of the spine can displace the intrathoracic organs, impede on the movement of the chest and ribs, and affect the normal movements of the respiratory muscles that allow for enough air to come in and out of the lungs. (16)
How severely the lungs are impacted depends on the degrees of the curve, the level of the curve and the amount of spinal rotation. The greater the curvature, the more severely the lungs are compressed. Luckily, most people with scoliosis who develop it during the adolescent years and have a curvature between approximately 50–70 degrees don’t have a high chance of suffering from respiratory failure. (17)
Research Supporting Chiropractic Care for Scoliosis
There are clear merits of non-surgical treatments for scoliosis despite what most people might think. Chiropractic biophysics doctors are doing some very good things for treating scoliosis completely naturally, which means less risk for complications or adverse reactions and less of a financial burden.
The key to scoliosis improvement and stopping progression is doing the right kinds of scoliosis exercises consistently, receiving specific adjustments, and making improvements to the patient’s diet and lifestyle. Together, these approaches can help reduce scoliosis pain, lower inflammation, help the body repair damaged tissues, and improve overall health and quality of life.
Chiropractic care has been shown to be beneficial for scoliosis because it involves precise adjustments delivered to areas of the spine that are misaligned, coupled with specific ongoing scoliosis exercises to keep the corrected spinal position. As oppose to bracing and surgery, this actually helps the spine become stronger and properly positioned long term, while improving the patient’s posture and preventing progression. (18)
The goal of natural scoliosis treatments, including chiropractic adjustments and scoliosis exercises, is to restore normal spinal biomechanics to patients in a safe way, without the need for surgery or medications that can come along with side effects. Chiropractic adjustments for scoliosis coupled with muscular rehabilitation techniques and scoliosis exercises can greatly slow down the progression of scoliosis — and fortunately they’re becoming more widely offered.
Organizations like the nonprofit CLEAR Institute/CLEAR Scoliosis Center (founded by Dr. Dennis Woggon) help effectively treat scoliosis without the use of restrictive braces or dangerous surgeries, helping patients experience a 10 percent to 30 percent decrease in their scoliosis curvatures on average. I strongly recommend learning about the CLEAR Institute’s protocol mentioned above and contacting one of its trained chiropractors if someone in your family is battling scoliosis.
- Compared to traditional treatment approaches, chiropractic care is now one area that offers a lot of hope for scoliosis patients. It’s been proved to help stop curvature progression, relieve back pain and improve quality of life in several key ways, all with fewer risks and usually at a lower cost too. Coupled with scoliosis exercises and diet, it can help this spinal condition.
- The CLEAR Institute’s “Mix, Fix, Set” Treatment Protocol shows promising results, utilizing scoliosis exercises and chiropractic care to improve the condition, as opposed to surgery or braces. Two main types of treatment plans are offered: a standardized 4.5-month treatment program or a customized two-week intensive care treatment program, which requires a four-month post-treatment home stabilization program.
- You can think of the active involvement from patients as part of their scoliosis treatment plan as being comparable to dental hygiene and seeing a dentist. You visit your dentist regularly and have cleanings or other procedures done, but you’re still responsible for brushing your own teeth, plus flossing, etc., at the end of the day to maintain dental health.
- On top of visiting a chiropractor and practcing at-home exercises, you want to follow an anti-inflammatory diet full of anti-inflammatory foods as much as possible. Nutritional therapy shouldn’t be overlooked in the treatment plan of spinal problems. One of the reasons this is true is because a poor diet is a contributing cause to both scoliosis and body-wide inflammation — which is the root cause of most diseases and can manifest in all sorts of symptoms.