Scoliosis affects about 7 million people in the U.S. Scoliosis describes an abnormal curve in the spine, which can vary in severity. Scoliosis can develop in infancy or early childhood, and many children are diagnosed with scoliosis from around ages 10 to 15. For children who need treatment, options range from physical therapy, such as the Schroth method, to bracing and spine surgery.
Norton Healthcare employs two of just a handful of physical therapists in Kentucky who are able to provide Schroth treatment, according to Ron E. Lasley, DPT, physical therapist with Norton Healthcare.
The Schroth method for nonsurgical scoliosis treatment
The Schroth methodis a nonsurgical option for scoliosis treatment. It uses scoliosis-specific exercises customized for each child. Norton Neurosciences & Spine Rehabilitation Center has treated children with scoliosis from ages 7 to 18. Many children with scoliosis may see good results with the Schroth method, as long as they are willing to put in the work for their home exercise program.
“Seeing a patient shortly after diagnosis is the best time to get them involved in the Schroth method in order to educate them about their curve,” said Jenna Reed, DPT, physical therapist with Norton Neurosciences & Spine Rehabilitation Center. “The Schroth treatment gives children the tools to improve strength and teach the body to position in a more natural posture — we basically are trying to teach the muscles to be your brace instead of using a brace. We aim to decrease progression of the scoliosis, prevent future pain and avoid surgery.”
Initially, children meet one-on-one with a therapist once a week for three to four months or longer. With progress, that schedule can transition to twice a month, and then once a month for monitoring purposes until the child stops growing. This treatment includes an at-home exercise program that children will need to practice 20 to 30 minutes daily.
During sessions, the physical therapist will teach a child about his or her curve; many children with scoliosis have an uneven pelvis or uneven shoulders. The exercises teach patients to use their muscles to stay in natural positions, starting at the pelvis and working through the entire curve. Exercises may involve sitting, standing, and lying on the back, stomach or side. Patients may use wall bars, poles or exercise balls to assist with positioning their arms and legs. Children will use passive correction, beanbag exercises with different positions and wall hanging to help elongate the spine.
Parents and caregivers are encouraged to participate in the child’s therapy with the Schroth method. Therapists provide a lot of information during the physical therapy sessions — parents are encouraged to take photos and videos of sessions to help with at-home practice and setup with the various equipment and positions. Family support is crucial for children to succeed with at-home exercises — children may have lots of questions or need encouragement for their therapy at home.
““Parents need to insist that their primary care provider screen their children when they have their annual physicals during their adolescent growth spurts starting at age 10,” said Joshua W. Meier, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville.”
Patient outcomes with the Schroth method
The Schroth method can be used to treat adults and children with idiopathic or neurological scoliosis. Idiopathic scoliosis is scoliosis that does not have a known cause; it is the most common form. Neurological scoliosis is scoliosis that is caused by a neurological or muscular condition.
There are several indicators of a successful outcome from Schroth treatment:
- Alignment of the pelvis
- Better self-management and understanding of the spine and scoliosis
- Decreased pain
- Improved core strength
- Improved posture and postural awareness
- Stabilization of the spinal curve
- Visible improvements in the degree of the spinal curve
“Historically, a wait-and-see approach was often taken with scoliosis patients. The Schroth method allows children and parents to take control over treatment to avoid future pain, bracing and/or surgery. You can feel more control if you feel like you’re doing everything you can,” Jenna said.
Early detection and intervention are key for scoliosis
Scoliosis screening helps kids get diagnosed as soon as possible. If parents notice any symptoms before their child’s growth spurt, they should talk to their child’s health care provider.
- Uneven shoulders — one shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other
- Uneven waist — one hip higher than the other