We live conservative treatment of scoliosis almost 24/7. As a result, I see parallels to living life with scoliosis everywhere.
Recently, I picked up the January issue of Real Simple, dedicated to helping create a balanced life. Who doesn’t need more balance? As I read “An Even Keel,” one of those scoliosis parallels occurred to me. The article begins by describing two kinds of people, those who “sweat the small stuff” (guilty!) and those who seem to handle every roadblock with grace (Dr. Marc). So this means as a team we have balance, right?
Anyway, the article discusses living a more even-keeled life, ha. The scoliosis bulb illuminated because one recent night we had been discussing empowerment from the Schroth method (that’s what most people discuss on Friday nights, I’m sure). Obviously, this is one reason we need to strive for a better life-balance.
The point: an intangible benefit of the Schroth Method is that it provides an element of control for a condition that people often feel is not within their control. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine has historically offered little in the way of self-help advice for patients with scoliosis other than wearing a back brace. The benefits of a proactive Schroth regimen are that it can tip the scales toward spinal balance (literally) and provide a patient with that degree of control they haven’t been able to attain. This is what provides the much-needed balance (figuratively).
Key to this element of balance is instruction by a knowledgeable, caring, organized Schroth method practitioner. These characteristics provide empowerment for multiple reasons. What is most important depends on the patient (everyone finds value in different aspects of our program). Individual spinal EDUCATION is one benefit –we recommend one-to-one training. Patients are instructed in the most EFFECTIVE WAYS TO COUNTERACT their curve(s). While Schroth exercises are important, so too are knowing the proper postures to use when engaging in basic daily activities such as sitting, standing or lying down. Learning which Schroth exercises are optimal for a particular curve and the nuanced way the curve-pattern-specific breathing exercises should be performed is the crux of our Schroth back school program. However, there is an added empowering element which is knowing what NOT to do in order to avoid progression.
This valuable knowledge takes away the helplessness and victimization of having scoliosis. When a child, or adult, learns a correct program of Schroth exercises – to promote spinal stabilization and strengthen the spinal musculature – while observing the visual spinal improvement in the mirror – it truly is empowering and motivating. The Schroth method, the way we teach it, provides an element of control and will even help combat the helplessness that may occur when a doctor utters, “You have scoliosis.”
There are empowerment perks for parents as well. For me, it was a huge relief to know there is something worthwhile to be done to lessen the likelihood of scoliosis progression. It’s a relief to see your child perk up because there is something that they CAN DO to help themselves. As the commercial says, ‘it’s priceless.’
Having an experienced spinal expert who intimately understands the complicated physiology of a spine with scoliosis and its effects on the trunk and body is essential. It takes time to explain the bends, twists, curves, and effects of an individual’s scoliosis and we start every program like that! It immediately takes away a lot of the mystery. Spinal surgeons are not trained for this (they’re surgeons!!) and don’t have the time to provide this type of information in the context of a traditional medical appointment (which is why surgeons, in my humble opinion, shouldn’t be the primary managers of scoliosis unless of course, you want surgery – but that’s another topic completely).
Medical management of scoliosis is downright counterintuitive for most parents. Doctors who haven’t lived through something similar with their own child probably can’t understand how unsettling the passivity of ‘watchful waiting’ is for some parents – especially those of us who do sweat the small stuff (and I don’t consider a scoliosis diagnosis small stuff by any stretch!). Most people prefer being proactive to ‘do nothing’. Most docs just don’t grasp the degree of frustration, helplessness, sense of limbo, anger, despair – you name it – that can come when it is recommended your blossoming offspring spend their most pivotal years enveloped in a scoliosis brace. It’s been many years since that happened to us and the memories are crystal clear. To make matters worse, if your child is growing and anywhere near a 40º to 45º Cobb angle and climbing, the threat of spinal fusion surgery for scoliosis feels as if you and your undeserving child are being marched to the gallows with no option for escape. Being told there is ‘nothing’ to be done to treat scoliosis proactively is borderline cruel, especially because there is something else to try first – and dare I suggest, the sooner the better.
Parents are told repeatedly, as we were, when we pressed our daughter’s orthopedic surgeon on scoliosis exercise recommendations, “Just wear the brace.” SO NOT EMPOWERING.
From a parental perspective, when your child is diagnosed with scoliosis (or if you are an adult with scoliosis) you are sentenced to living a life of constant worry. Is the spine bending, twisting or collapsing with each movement? Is Johnny sitting the right way in math class? What is the right way? Which activities could potentially harm his already compromised spine? Should Susie really be running track, play soccer, swim? Is that good or bad for her spine? What about violin lessons? Will holding the neck in the necessary position be harmful in the short or long term? What about dance, yoga, tennis? This is information provided in our scoliosis back school based on each individual’s spine. Empowering.
When considering an intensive scoliosis-specific Schroth exercise regimen for your child, or yourself, there is one final consideration you should not lose sight of, scoliosis is for life. Scoliosis doesn’t end with skeletal maturity. Children become adults, sooner rather than later, and adults have to live with their scoliotic spine, dress their scoliotic body, manage their scoliotic posture, and perhaps pain, independently. Schroth exercises are for life and after participation in a comprehensive program the scoliotic has the necessary skills and tools needed for optimal lifetime scoliosis management and will hopefully be able to avoid progression and pain. THAT’S EMPOWERING.