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Chiropractic for Scoliosis: Does It Help?

Can Chi­ro­prac­tic Fix Scoliosis?

If you’re in a hurry, I’ll make it easy for you — the quick answer is “no.”

But read fur­ther if you’re inter­ested in a more nuanced response.

What Are the Dif­fer­ent Types of Scoliosis?

Sco­l­io­sis is a con­di­tion in which the spine shows an excess amount of side-to-side curvature.

Sco­l­io­sis

Some­times sco­l­io­sis is due to mus­cle or neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease, frac­ture, sig­nif­i­cant leg length inequal­ity, or some other under­ly­ing cause.

But much more com­monly (80–85% of cases) there doesn’t seem to be any clear cause for sco­l­io­sis. Then it’s called idio­pathic sco­l­io­sis.

Since the curves of idio­pathic sco­l­io­sis most often become evi­dent dur­ing your ado­les­cent growth spurt, this usual type of sco­l­io­sis is called Ado­les­cent Idio­pathic Sco­l­io­sis or AIS.

AIS isn’t just  found in ado­les­cents. If you’re an adult with sco­l­io­sis, and your curves began dur­ing ado­les­cence, you still would be con­sid­ered to have ado­les­cent idio­pathic scoliosis.

Mild, Mod­er­ate or Severe?

The mea­sure­ment of “Cobb’s Angle” is the most com­mon way to grade the sever­ity of sco­l­io­sis. Here’s a dia­gram of how it’s calculated:

Cobbs Angle

Mea­sure­ment of Cobb’s Angle

Up to a Cobb angle of 25 degrees, sco­l­io­sis is labeled mild. If your curve is 25 to 40 degrees it’s con­sid­ered mod­er­ate. And above 40 degrees, the con­di­tion is termed severe.

Pro­gres­sive or Stable?

Doc­tors are also con­cerned with whether a sco­l­i­otic curve is sta­ble or if it’s get­ting worse.

In most cases, mild or even mod­er­ate curves in ado­les­cence won’t progress over time. Some­times they actu­ally diminish.

But the oppo­site can also hap­pen. Dur­ing the rapid growth period of ado­les­cence, sco­l­io­sis can increase.

When AIS is present in a skeletally-mature adult, the gen­eral med­ical assump­tion is that the curve is sta­ble. It’s unlikely to get much worse.

Symp­to­matic or Symptom-Free?

Sco­l­io­sis is like many other types of spinal anom­aly. If it’s mild or mod­er­ate, it doesn’t always cause problems.

On the other hand, if you are hav­ing symp­toms related to your sco­l­io­sis, there might be a way of alle­vi­at­ing the symp­toms even though the under­ly­ing degree of sco­l­i­otic curve remains unchanged.

Can Chi­ro­prac­tic Help With Scoliosis?

For ado­les­cents

The typ­i­cal med­ical approach to mild ado­les­cent idio­pathic sco­l­io­sis is just to watch and wait. Per­haps a series of peri­odic Xrays is taken to see if the curve is pro­gress­ing. The major­ity of chil­dren with mild AIS will never expe­ri­ence sig­nif­i­cant pro­gres­sion or trou­ble­some symptoms.

Many chi­ro­prac­tors feel that a pro­gram of spinal care is ben­e­fi­cial in mild AIS to min­i­mize the like­li­hood of pro­gres­sion. In addi­tion to spinal adjust­ments, doc­tors of chi­ro­prac­tic may incor­po­rate spe­cific brac­ing and trac­tion tech­niques in an attempt to counter-balance the curves, spinal exer­cise to main­tain flex­i­bil­ity and pro­mote sym­me­try, the use of heel inserts to equal­ize appar­ent leg length, and other methods.

Unfor­tu­nately there’s not strong research to show that these mea­sures make a dif­fer­ence in curve pro­gres­sion in scoliosis.

I’m skep­ti­cal that spinal adjust­ments alone would make much of a dent in sco­l­io­sis. But my exten­sive chi­ro­prac­tic expe­ri­ence leads me to believe that a more com­pre­hen­sive approach could be ben­e­fi­cial. It should help main­tain flex­i­bil­ity of the spinal joints and bal­anced use of the muscles.

But your doc­tor of chi­ro­prac­tic shouldn’t be try­ing to jus­tify an exten­sive pro­gram of care by cre­at­ing fear that sco­l­io­sis will get worse – often it doesn’t – or by mak­ing an unsup­port­able ther­a­peu­tic claim that chi­ro­prac­tic can reduce scoliosis.

For mod­er­ate to severe AIS, med­ical treat­ment is usu­ally imple­mented. With mod­er­ate sco­l­io­sis, a typ­i­cal pro­to­col involves spe­cial­ized spinal brac­ing to main­tain pres­sure on the ver­te­bra over long peri­ods of time – some­thing like ortho­don­tic braces for the skeleton.

In cases of severe sco­l­io­sis, or when brac­ing isn’t effec­tive, cor­rec­tive surgery is an option.

Given the lack of research back­ing it up, it would be hard to jus­tify a pro­gram of chi­ro­prac­tic treat­ment as an out­right alter­na­tive to the stan­dard med­ical approach.  But it seems log­i­cal that a com­pre­hen­sive chiropractically-managed con­ser­v­a­tive treat­ment pro­gram could offer addi­tional sup­port in mod­er­ate or severe sco­l­io­sis too.

P.S. – although brac­ing for sco­l­io­sis is well-researched, the use of surgery, although long-established, suf­fers from a lack of ade­quate research back­ing it up.

For adults

For adults with AIS, I believe a com­pre­hen­sive chiropractically-managed con­ser­v­a­tive care pro­gram can be very effec­tive in help­ing you man­age symp­toms asso­ci­ated with sco­l­io­sis such as pain or move­ment limitation.

There are many accounts of peo­ple reduc­ing their curves by under­go­ing this type of treat­ment, and it could very well hap­pen for you. Yet, with­out fur­ther pub­lished data, I feel it would be inap­pro­pri­ate for a doc­tor of chi­ro­prac­tic to sug­gest that his or her meth­ods will result in a change in the mag­ni­tude of your sco­l­io­sis curves.

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