Hope in Austin for the Pain of Scoliosis
In a typical week of Rolfing in my downtown Austin office I see headaches relieved, back pain dissolved, aching shoulders softened and the hurting knees of runners return to race. These results are common, frequent and expected from the hands of a skillful Rolfer. But what about scoliosis? After years of the spine and rib cage being twisted, often causing daily pain, can relief be expected?
Scoliosis is a complex condition, and as body workers know, the pain of scoliosis cannot be relieved by simply applying pressure where there is pain. The underlying pulls and strains causing spinal imbalances come from multiple points in the body, so a skilled practitioner must look for all contributing stressors that are pulling the body out of alignment. (In any one session I may work between the ribs to give greater elasticity and movement, around the sacrum and hips to bring the pelvis into balance and throughout the neck and shoulders to give aligned posture.)
I love the challenge of figuring out the complex causes of scoliosis, and even more, I am deeply satisfied, even emotionally moved, to see the majority of my scoliosis clients leave with far less pain, and in most cases without any pain. This is remarkable for scoliosis suffers who have assumed that there were no solutions for their daily pain.
But another crucial question: Can scoliosis be reversed through Rolfing? While I can dependably alleviate much, if not all of the pain for most scoliosis sufferers by Rolfing them on average twice a month, I prefer to go for a more satisfying result—actually seeing scoliosis reverse itself. For this reason, I encourage my scoliosis clients to participate in a targeted exercise program, which ideally would include three components: 1. Directed breathing to internally open constricted areas, 2. Stretching/elongation of tight muscles and 3. Strengthening of weak muscles. (Note that not just any form of exercise is helpful. Even Pilates or Yoga can worsen the condition if not orchestrated with wisdom for this special condition.)
There are several promising physical exercise methods that are hopeful to prevent further severity of scoliosis and in some cases even reverse the condition.
- The Schroth Method is an exercise and stretching modality developed in Germany that has demonstrated impressive results in treating scoliosis. From the research I have done, this method is my number one recommendation for stabilizing and perhaps even reversing scoliosis. See a New York Times article on the Schroth Method: Hope for an S-Shaped Back. Thus far, I have not found a Schroth Method practitioner who lives in Austin—please let me know if you locate one! But I have located three physical therapists in Texas that offer the Schroth Method; in Dallas, Houston, and Waco. See below.
- Sue Simmerman can be found in Dallas, (817) 641 8617 (ask for her office manager Cindy Hamm). Here is an overview of Simmerman’s program, in her own words:
“This is a cash only program. The cost of the initial evaluation is $175.00–this will include a thorough evaluation of lung volume, postural grid pictures, scoliometer testing for degree of spinal rotation, mm length and strength testing and Schroth education on functional beginning positions and breathing patterns with pictures taken of each posture. Each session after that is one hour ($125.00). The most effective frequency initially is one time per week or a minimum of every other week until they have established a good base of knowledge and follow through but I realize with the distance this may not be possible. I have multiple clients currently completing one time per month some are very successful with this –others are not.”
- Larry Hixon (281.357.5454) also offers the Schroth Method in North Houston–about a 2 and 1/2 hour trip from downtown Austin. He offers a six session package for approximately $725–very reasonable!. The first visit entails an overnight stay so that you can have one session in the afternoon and another the next morning. The same is repeated for the third and fourth session. See www.motionphysicaltherapy.com. Larry has devoted considerable time to studying scoliosis and knows Schroth well as applied to both children and adults. He is also able to provide supportive bracing when deemed appropriate.
- Kelsey Baas (254.892.4957) is just 1.5 hours from Austin in Waco/Central Texas. Her location is easy access from the highway and close to hotels if the patient would like to stay the night and combine sessions in a more intensive type format. Goals of treatment include improved lung function, improved posture, and decreased pain. Kelsey is certified to treat both children and adults with the Schroth method. The clinic is cash based; however, all CPT codes are provided in a super-bill in order for patient to submit for out of network reimbursement from their insurance.
- There is a chiropractor in the Boston area that has done extensive training in the Schroth Method and provides comprehensive 21 hour training (completed in five days, M-F) for clients who travel to Boston. See drmoramarco.com.
- Another promising approach to scoliosis is a chiropractic method called SpineCor, which uses a soft brace that is worn most hours day and night. You can find a comparison of SpineCor to other treatment methods, written by SpineCor, at this site. SpineCor strongly asserts that “It is important to understand that exercises alone DO NOT HALT PROGRESSION of idiopathic scoliosis. Full time decompression of the scoliosis with bracing is necessary because scoliosis is progressive and worsens during growth spurts.” In other words, bracing AND targeted exercises together are strongly recommended. Please note that some practitioners consider that this form of bracing does not work well with the Schroth Method.
- A program that utilizes both the Schroth Method and SpineCor can be found here. I am told that there is a chiropractor who comes into Austin occasionally to do this integrative work.
- I currently have one scoliosis client participating in another chiropractic approach that uses potent and targeted vibration and exercise to affect change: The Clear Method. This client reports an initial reversal of 9 degrees after four months of participation in The Clear Method. The drawback seems to be that on-going and continuous treatment is required.
- Both SpineCor, the Clear Method, and Dr. Moramarco’s treatment can cost several thousand dollars—near the $5,000 range.
There is an app now available (released in 2014) for at-home assessment of scoliosis. Scoligauge is purported to the have the same degree of accuracy in measuring the rotation component of scoliosis as the tool commonly used by doctors for monitoring scoliosis. Additionally, Erin Myers, a Pilates and yoga teacher, has an informative website for scoliosis. I particularly like her free videos series that teach how clients how to measure and assess their scoliosis at home. Unfortunately, her website, like practically all yoga and Pilates practitioners I am aware of, does not offer asymmetrical exercises that are targeted to the uniqueness of scoliosis–scoliosis clients should not be doing postures and exercises the same way for both sides of the body.
Because Rolfing offers the deepest method of hands-on body work for releasing underlying strains, and because it works systemically, creating balance throughout the whole body, not just relaxing painful areas, it is effective in relieving pain caused by scoliosis. Additionally, Rolfing can create a quicker release from pain than rehabilitative programs that most often take months to affect change. But I highly recommend that my scoliosis clients do Rolfing in conjunction with a targeted exercise program specific to scoliosis and ideally also utilize a soft brace, in order to stop the progression of scoliosis and even create a reversal of the condition.
Len Worley, PhD
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About Gentle Rolfing: Rolfing still has a reputation of being extremely painful, even if extremely helpful. In some ways the reputation is deserved since many practitioners of the early form of Rolfing went far deeper and quicker into contracted tissue than what nature intended, thus not allowing the body to open organically. Most Rolfing practitioners today have graduated to a more respectful approach, still applying effectively deep pressure but doing so gradually and progressively in a way that allows the body to open naturally. The rule of thumb for me is that Rolfing body work should always be satisfying and never dreadful.