Why, then, are bracing, surgery, and observational approaches most commonly recommended?
Doctors commonly opt to only observe children with early stage scoliosis — curves measuring less than 25 degrees — for at least the first six months. The idea is that doctors can tell if the mild scoliosis is progressive or not after this amount of time has passed. Yet, if the curve reaches 25 degrees, there is a 68 percent chance the scoliosis will continually get worse. The ScoliSMART doctors know it's best to intervene and start a scoliosis treatment plan that includes spinal resistance training as soon as scoliosis is detected.
Giving the condition six months to worsen before taking action isn't logical or wise. Our innovative treatment approach improves curve flexibility, mobilizes the spinal joints, and trains the brain to learn a new spinal position automatically and permanently. This retraining program can slow or eliminate curve progression regardless of the stage of scoliosis, but the sooner your child starts it, the more likely it is the curve will never reach 50 degrees (surgical recommendation).
Part of the problem with traditional scoliosis treatment is the way scoliosis is detected. Most doctors rely on the Cobb angle, which is a measurement of lateral bending visible on an x-ray. Although researchers agree that scoliosis is a three-dimensional spine deformity, most still use this two-dimensional measurement. Surface topography, 3D posturography, MRIs and spinal ultrasound all provide more relevant information about the scoliosis deformity than the 80-year-old Cobb angle measurement.
Doctors need to analyze your child's posture for a tipped shoulder, a high hip, a forward head posture, a sway back posture or poor alignment from the skull to the pelvis to identify smaller curves. A tool called a Scoliometer also helps us detect small curves. Early detection is especially important if scoliosis runs in your family. The earlier we detect scoliosis, the sooner we can start Early Stage Scoliosis Intervention treatment and work to stop scoliosis progression.
Scoliosis creates a twisting of the spine around its axis. This is caused by lateral bending and rotation of spinal movement patterns. Picture a rubber band being twisted. This twisting causes severe torque that makes the existing spinal curve twist and bend even more. We call this self-feeding loop the "coil-down effect." We can often see this spinal deformity in your child's torso or notice a rib hump before the Cobb angle measurement indicates a problem. When treatment begins while the curvature is minimal, we can halt this "coil-down" phenomenon and greatly increase the odds of reducing a curve to 10 degrees or less.
Most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning they have no known cause. Yet the progression of scoliosis is caused by a miscommunication between the brain and the muscles. The brain doesn't realize that your child's posture is out of alignment, so it doesn't send the messages telling the muscles to correct the spinal curvature.
ScoliSMART training focuses on correcting that neuromuscular miscommunication. Our Auto Response Training creates new muscle memory and coordination that helps the body stabilize. This exercise training lowers the chance that scoliosis will get worse and often reduces the curve to less than 10 degrees. No scoliosis treatment can "fix" the condition 100 percent. The intended result is to halt the progression and reduce the curve as much as possible.
Genetic variant testing for scoliosis is becoming increasingly popular, in light of decades worth of published evidence on the role of specific genetic variations and the onset/progression of idiopathic scoliosis. This is an exciting new direction for scoliosis treatment, with the hopes that eventually scoliosis can be prevented altogether. For example, there are known genetic variations in scoliosis that affect estrogen metabolism, bone density, and neurotransmitter conversion. These changes all occur much more frequently in patients with scoliosis compared to the general population. ScoliSMART doctors can routinely check their scoliosis patients for these genetic variations and employ functional medicine treatment strategies to minimize the physiologic impact of these genetic variations. This, in turn, may lead to a reduced risk of scoliosis progression, especially into adulthood. Unfortunately, there is a significant lack of application of this knowledge into clinical practice; therefore, most scoliosis physicians are not yet taking advantage of this important information.
Frenchman Ambrose Paré created the first metal scoliosis brace in 1575. Many others have been created since then, but patients tell us they still look and feel terrible. A scoliosis brace usually causes more harm than good. It's typically prescribed if your child's curve measures 25-40 degrees, the measurement of moderate scoliosis. This treatment squeezes the ribcage and the pelvis for up to 23 hours a day in an attempt to force the spine to straighten.
In some cases, it appears the brace is helping in follow-up x-rays. But the condition worsens as soon as the brace is removed. That's because your child's muscles are weakened and joints become terribly stiff when they are not allowed to move. A rib hump, breathing problems and other complications often occur within weeks of using a brace. Read more about the problems with scoliosis braces here.
The low success rates of scoliosis braces combined with the physical and psychological damage they cause make us question why anyone would prescribe them. Admitting traditional scoliosis treatment doesn't work is the first step toward innovative changes. Your child can beat scoliosis, even if his or her curve is 25 degrees or more.
Spinal fusion surgery for scoliosis also has a long history of complications and failure. The surgery has advanced and yet two-thirds of patients have complications. A scoliosis curve isn't life-threatening and people with a curve often live without pain. American Family Physician has stated that "there is no difference in the prevalence of back pain or mortality between patients with untreated adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and the general population."
A 2015 study showed back pain in 76% of patients ages 10-17 who underwent spinal deformity correction a minimum of five years prior. Surgery straightens the spine at the cost of mobility. Your teenager may look straighter and taller after surgery, but have pain and breathing problems that didn't exist before. Additionally, when two-thirds of the spine is fused, the remaining portion becomes hypermobile. These areas degenerate much faster and develop issues as your child ages. And yet, doctors are eager to recommend spinal surgery for teenagers younger than 14 who are not done growing.
For more information on why long-term surgery risks may outweigh its benefits, read our page on surgery.
European research is connecting scoliosis to low levels of certain hormones and the brain not responding to these hormones. These hormones include leptin, melatonin, calmodulin, serotonin, and growth hormones.
Understanding how the brain communicates with itself and parts of the body helps explain this miscommunication. Nerve pathways are like city streets with junctions similar to intersections. Each intersection has a neurotransmitter, like a street light. When the brain sends a message, the neurotransmitter must tell the message to continue through the intersection and go throughout the nervous system. Neurotransmitters in the brain each have different functions, like slowing messages or accelerating them. When even a few neurotransmitters are deficient, the flow of messages is disrupted or too many are transmitted too quickly. Wrecks are the result in the street analogy.
Neurotransmitters are typically made from certain B vitamins and amino acids. We can test your child for neurotransmitter imbalances and restore the body's communication with supplements. For example, many scoliosis patients are deficient in serotonin. Serotonin-controlled nerve pathways are responsible for satiety, happiness, and dynamic postural control. Serotonin is also converted into melatonin, and melatonin deficiency is tied to scoliosis.
Making the right scoliosis treatment decisions is difficult for you and your child — especially if you're not presented with all the options. You deserve to know that scoliosis is not simply physical. Treatment shouldn't be, either.
The Society on Scoliosis Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Treatment (SOSORT) says there are many factors more important than correcting a Cobb angle. These factors should be considered before you make scoliosis treatment decisions:
We can help you learn about scoliosis and your treatment options. No matter what you've been told, you deserve a second opinion. We're not going to promise a quick fix or magic potion. We will give you treatment options to improve your child's condition and life — forever.
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