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Does Physical Therapy for Scoliosis Help? A Doctor Explains

scoliosis-spine-x-rayby James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Q. What can you tell me about scoliosis, and especially about exercise and scoliosis for teens? A friend’s 12-year-old daughter was told she had a curve in her back but to wait and see if it gets worse. If it does, she may need to wear a brace or have surgery. Sitting around and doing nothing doesn’t seem to make sense. Are there exercises she could do, or maybe work with a physical therapist, to help so that her curve doesn’t become worse?
—Beth


A.
Scoliosis means "crooked," and a crooked spine is what scoliosis is all about. We don't know what causes it. The degree of curvature, usually measured with back X-rays, determines the treatment. The usual early treatment is wait and see.

Unfortunately, no intervention has been known to reverse scoliosis. The only thing that slows scoliosis down is a brace or surgery. Exercise, physical therapy and chiropractic manipulation have not been shown to slow it down at all.

The scoliosis may progress while she's growing up. If the curvature gets around the 20-degree mark, she may need a brace. There's no way to predict whose back will do this, but about 1 in 5 need the brace.

There are two reasons you want to treat scoliosis.

  1. Cosmetic purposes.

  2. Functional reasons since it can affect your lung capacity and breathing, or increase your risk for back pain.

Though exercise doesn't help scoliosis, it's always good for overall health and general back support. Exercises to stabilize core strength like Pilates or yoga could help overall back health but will not slow down the natural progression of the scoliosis.

You can find more good information on scoliosis at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.


JAMES HUBBARD, M.D., M.P.H.
, is the publisher of www.MyFamilyDoctorMag.com, the Web site written by health-care professionals for the general public. He's been a family doctor for over 25 years.

Last updated and/or approved: May 2010. Originally published January 2009. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

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to cindy wollard
written by vanessa chiodo , October 26, 2012

cindy Could I possibly speak with you. I am desperately looking for something for my 12 year old baby girl...
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Ur back comes first so take care of it.
written by Lombardi , September 03, 2012

Im was 14 when i found out i had scoliosis.i had miner pain@ 23 i joinef the Army and learned to streathen my back.i worked threw the pinch nerves.spasm.burning pain by treating myself.@27 i was pregnant.it was very hard for mt to carry ths big and being very thin stomach before.it put alot of pressure on my back.now @34 no more children due to the pain of my pregnacy.i recent loss intreased in working out my back.i had a muscle spasm so bad today my back slumpt over.after taking med and a shot of.tramdol i was feeling just ok.not better.i realized that maintaing a great diet and strong core helps my back.hot showers in the morning and make room for therapy and excersice will help ur back.do these before ur old and its to late.its a big comittment.take care of ur back it will take care of you.
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...
written by lyla , July 11, 2012

for Cindy Wollard
Could you plase let me know where do you live and what doctor helped your daugther? my daugther has a scoliosis also - tretment is not helping at all, it just getting worth. Please help. thank you

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written by Cindy wollard , March 28, 2012

My daughter wore a brace for a year. They said it would not correct curve but would keep it from getting worse. A year later the brace came off as the curve was disappearing. We still had a curve but not as severe. I was very frustrated when they took the brace off and were waiting to see if it would go back into original curve. I wanted to keep it on until she stopped growing. With no other options I took her to chiropractor and he found that her hips were uneven. His thought were balance the foundation and with adjustments it would stop from getting worse. We went back to Shriners for our yearly exam and the spine was straight! Absolutely no curve, no scoliosis to measure! They want to continue checking her every 6 months because this is not normal. The Chiro put a he'll lift in her shoe to balance the hips as part of his plan to balance her foundation. He explained no different than a building. If the foundation is uneven so will the rest of the building. No different than the body. I also have Scoliosis and I truly am amazed at her exrays. It really is a miracle!

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written by appreciation trophies , November 05, 2010

I have scoliosis since high school & I just had a 20 physical therapy session after that I'm done. Now I'm 25 whenever back is hurting pretty bad I do nothing because really nothing can relieve the pain..
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Pilates exercises
written by Pilates exercises , May 05, 2010

I have found leg raises to be great to help tone your bum as well as your stomach. Just lay flat on your back with your arms by your side and slowly raise your legs straight up so your body sits at a 90 degree angle and slowly lower them again.
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Schroth Method
written by Heather , May 21, 2009

Our clinic offers a physical therapy approach that leverages exercise to treat scoliosis. The Schroth Method has been used successfully in Europe for decades. One of our patients and a therapist from our clinic were recently interviewed by a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. See her story here:
http://tinyurl.com/tribscoli
We recently published a four-year case history of a patient who experienced a reduction in her curve. Find the link here:
http://www.sdwpt.com/services/scoliosis.php
Patients (adults and children) come to us from across the US. We've helped people avoid surgery. Want more info? Contact us at info@sdwpt.com

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written by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. , April 22, 2009

Exercises such as swimming, pilates or yoga might help the pain.
But first she needs to get her doctor's ok.

Depending on how bad the curve gets, she may need a brace or surgery and there is no way around that. There is nothing that can be done to reverse the curve. The surgery or brace is to keep it from getting worse. That's why it cannot be put off.

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i need answers to my questions please
written by nicole , April 22, 2009

my sister is 16 and she has scoliosis and her doctors just gave pills and she works and has no time for physical therapy so what can she do to help her pain and her back so that she does not have to where a brace
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