For decades, bracing and spinal fusion have been the go-to treatments for scoliosis.

But as a growing body of research sheds new light on this complex condition, patients are increasingly turning their backs on these outdated practices—and seeking alternative therapies instead.

Massage, in particular, has gained attention for its ability to reduce the chronic back pain that’s sometimes associated with scoliosis. A skilled massage therapist “can use a combination of massage strokes, sustained pressure, positioning and stretches to help balance the muscles of the back and body” and temporarily alleviate scoliosis symptoms, says massage therapist Jeanne Troncao.

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A scoliosis diagnosis means different things to different patients.

For some, it means dealing with a minor inconvenience that never quite becomes a real problem — or one that fades away as adulthood approaches. For others, it means chronic back pain and an inhibited range of motion. In extreme cases, it could mean suffering from heart problems or breathing difficulties.

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Vertebral body tethering, or VBT, is a relatively new procedure being used to treat idiopathic scoliosis. Though ScoliSMART doesn’t perform VBT, it has close relationships with many doctors who perform the operation.

VBT is a surgery that uses tethering of bones – inserting screws and cord into each of the spinal bone – to help correct the curvature associated with scoliosis. For VBT to be most effective, we recommend that it only be used by adolescent patients who are still growing and already have a curvature of over 40 degrees. Though we do all we can to avoid invasive surgeries, like spinal fusion, VBT is a less invasive, surgery that still allows the spine to grow and also allows for further treatment options in the future. It’s a great option for advanced scoliosis in adolescents, as it both arrests the growth of the curve – and begins to reduce it.

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Treating scoliosis often means forcing the spine into alignment with invasive measures such as a back brace or surgically inserted rods.

But what many patients don’t know is that there’s a third option: improving communication between the brain and muscles through scoliosis physical therapy.

When doctors treat scoliosis curves with bracing or surgery, they’re not actually addressing the source of the problem. While the root cause of idiopathic scoliosis is unknown, the disorder’s progression occurs because the brain doesn’t respond properly to gravity, causing the spine to become incorrectly oriented.

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When seeking relief from scoliosis pain, many of today’s patients turn to yoga.

Although this ancient practice doesn’t make any significant impact on the progression of spinal curves, the strengthening and structural alignment developed through yoga poses (known as asanas) can reduce pain and help patients live more comfortable lives.

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Adolescent scoliosis is one of those tricky conditions that can evade detection for a long time after it develops. Its subtle symptoms are often dismissed until a rapid growth phase causes the spine’s abnormal curve to suddenly worsen.

Even then, scoliosis can continue to fly under the radar while the curve progresses. In one study, patients with moderate to severe scoliosis went undiagnosed more than 10 percent of the time.

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Fusionless scoliosis tethering (otherwise known as vertebral body tethering or VBT) is a less invasive surgical procedure that has been used for the past 7 years by a select number of Orthopedic surgeons. While still a highly invasive surgical procedure, as all spinal surgeries are, it does offer some significant advantages over the more widely used spinal fusion for scoliosis procedures.

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As many as one in 10 scoliosis patients will ultimately get a referral for spinal fusion surgery. Each year, nearly 40,000 choose to endure this invasive procedure.

But just because a doctor recommends spinal fusion doesn’t mean it’s your only — or even best — option.

Before you commit to having your spine fused, it’s important to fully consider the risks of scoliosis surgery. To reach the spine, a surgeon must cut through five layers of spinal muscles, including surrounding ligaments, tendons and the spine’s entire posterior joint system. Stabilizing the curve involves running a solid metal rod through a column of 3-inch screws and hooks inserted into the bone along the entire length of the curve. It’s a highly invasive surgery that requires months of recovery time.

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A scoliosis diagnosis can be scary, especially when doctors start talking about back braces and spinal fusion surgery. The good news is that informed parents are far more likely to achieve a positive outcome for their children.

It all starts with understanding what scoliosis is — and what it isn’t. Scoliosis is a complex neuromuscular condition that causes the spine to curve. Although most people think of the curve itself as the problem, it’s actually just the symptom of a deeper defect: a neuro-hormonal imbalance that prevents the brain from detecting and correcting the spine’s abnormal posture.

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Detecting and treating scoliosis is as much an art as a science. The spine is an elegant structure, with complex curves that interact to form a delicate balance.

Now that computer-assisted techniques have shed new light on the intricate workings of the spine, doctors are looking for more advanced ways to measure and evaluate scoliotic curves.

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