People with scoliosis, abnormal lateral curvature of the spine, are
mainly adolescent and female. The most common signs of scoliosis include
trunk and pelvis asymmetry, a rib and a lumbar hump, as well as a
prominent shoulder and/or hip.
As scoliosis progresses, the symptoms,
such as back pain, problems breathing, osteoarthritis, psychological
issues, and a decreased quality of life become more apparent. Currently patients diagnosed with scoliosis are either monitored
for progression, treated with a brace, or, in severe cases, offered
‘Specialized physical therapy exercises can improve the curve of the spine, muscle endurance and quality of life in teens with scoliosis.’
For teens with scoliosis, a new study shows specialized physical
therapy exercises can improve the curve of the spine, muscle endurance
and quality of life, as researchers advocate for conservative management
to be added to the standard of care for patients in Canada.
Sanja Schreiber from the University of Alberta's
Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, explained, "Our study showed that 88%
of patients who did the Schroth physiotherapeutic scoliosis-specific
exercises showed improvements or prevented progression in their
scoliosis curves over six months compared to 60% in the group
receiving only standard of care."
For 14-year-old Ava who had to wear a brace for her scoliosis since
she was 11, the scoliosis-specific exercises, Schroth, have meant less
pain, more confidence and more control over her own body. "I don't have
to look like I'm crooked for the rest of my life. I now have control
over my own body," she said. "While my brace is very important, the
exercises have helped me change my outlook on my condition."
The randomized control trial, recently published in PLOS ONE
studied 50 adolescents with scoliosis aged 10 to 18 years with curves
of 10 to 45 degrees (Cobb Angle). After six months of Schroth
physiotherapy, (30-45 minute daily home program and weekly supervised
sessions), 88% of patients either had improving curves beyond or
remaining within five degrees of their baseline curve magnitude. The
average curve in the control group deteriorated by 2.3 degrees. Overall,
the difference between the Schroth and the control group was 3.5
"These short term results are clinically significant and show that
Schroth physiotherapy exercises could help many patients with scoliosis
if this type of conservative management is added to the standard of
care," said Eric Parent, associate professor of physical therapy,
Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. The results have justified further
research, with the establishment of the Multicenter Schroth Exercise
Schreiber has dedicated most of her career to studying scoliosis and
trying to find conservative treatment that will work. "I've even tried
general corrective exercises, yoga and pilates." she said. "It's hard
when a young teenager gets diagnosed with scoliosis and is told they
will either wear a brace all the time or get surgery when the curve
becomes severe enough, more than 45 degrees.
"The current standard of care for smaller curves is very much 'wait
and see' while parents and patients demand a more proactive approach.
I'd like to encourage them to 'try and see,'" Schreiber continued. "Try
Schroth and see if it helps. Not only in our study, but also in my
clinical practice, I've seen so many teens who have experienced pain
improvement and feel better overall with Schroth exercises. Also, they
feel they are in control of their scoliosis, because the Schroth method
teaches them how to stand, sit, walk, and do other daily activities
correctly, so that they can keep their best posture. It's just better
quality of life overall."
For Ava, after only wearing a brace every day for over a year, she
felt she had weak muscles and experienced pain trying to hold herself
up. Though the Schroth exercises can be hard work, she sees the results
of her commitment.
"I used to get a lot of pain and felt really weak without my brace.
Now I have gained strength and hold myself up with my own muscles," she
The study also showed positive effects the Schroth had on pain, body
image and muscle endurance. "The Schroth group showed improved muscle
endurance by increasing the average holding time by 32.3 seconds after
three months, while the controls increased by only 4.8 seconds," said
For Ava, the change in perspective is what she values most throughout her experience.
"I used to think I'd be this way forever and there's nothing I can
do to fix it. But now I have control over my own body, and I know I
don't have to feel that kind of pain for the rest of my life."