Physical Therapy for Scoliosis

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.

In a non-scoliotic body, the brain responds to gravity by telling the spine to straighten. In a scoliotic body, the brain incorrectly perceives gravity and fails to send the message. With the back muscles unable to maintain proper posture, the spine develops abnormally and scoliosis curves progress.

The right scoliosis exercises can treat the underlying problem by retraining the brain to correct the body’s posture and help bring the spine back into alignment.

Types of Scoliosis Exercises

Physical therapy for scoliosis comes in many forms, with a variety of different approaches to treating the disorder. These can include:

  • Focusing on breathing mechanics and function
  • Using mirror-image exercises to balance out the curves
  • Incorporating anti-scoliosis postures into normal daily activities
  • Performing involuntary exercises to retrain the brain and muscles

While they all have different goals, most of these types of scoliosis exercises are voluntary, which means they’re performed intentionally. Involuntary exercises, on the other hand, occur when the body moves automatically in response to a specific stimulus; movements like carrying a purse or wearing glasses become habitual within the brain.

Because posture control is an involuntary habit, the only scoliosis physical therapy that can effectively halt progression consists of involuntary exercises that help the patient form new postural habits.

Also known as Auto Response Training, involuntary scoliosis exercises involve placing small amounts of weight on the head, torso and pelvis. The patient then performs specific movements that help the brain perceive a different center of balance within the body, which triggers the brain to re-balance the posture and realign the spine. These scoliosis exercises aim to:

  • Stop or slow progression
  • Reduce and stabilize existing curvature
  • Improve function and cosmetic appearance
  • Eliminate the need for invasive bracing or surgery

Auto Response Training works on every scoliosis patient, regardless of age or curve measurements — although it’s most effective for children with curves below 30 degrees. With early intervention and the use of involuntary scoliosis exercises, mild curves can often be reduced to less than 10 degrees, and larger curves will most likely never reach 30 degrees.

How Auto Response Training Works

Unlike other types of physical therapy for scoliosis, involuntary exercises require both specialized equipment and a knowledgeable doctor. The first step is to reduce the curve rigidity, which loosens up the spine. The patient then performs specific exercises using weighted equipment to recruit new muscle memory.

Because the exercises are intense and require daily repetition over a long period of time, immersive treatment programs have the best success at jumpstarting a patient’s home training routine. Available programs include:

Scoliosis BootCamp: Designed for patients with curves 25 degrees or larger, this 10-day moderate intensity treatment program gives patients the opportunity to gain a handle on their scoliosis curvature while providing them with homecare equipment and instructions, timelines, and re-evaluation points to determine the effectiveness of the treatment.

Small Curve Camp: Patients with curves smaller than 25 degrees can opt for a more proactive treatment rather than waiting to see how far the curves will progress before taking action. This 5-day program combines scoliosis exercises with gentle cyclical traction equipment to lower the risk of developing a more severe spinal deformity. Patients receive detailed timelines, homecare protocols and treatment goals.

When choosing a scoliosis physical therapy program, it’s important to remember that not all treatments are equal. While many can help alleviate the pain associated with scoliosis, Auto Response Training is the only method proven effective at impeding the progression of spinal curves.

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