Does Schroth Work?

S.R. – 12/9/13

Final Project, ICSM

does schroth workWhen I was fourteen years old, I was diagnosed with a “moderate” case of Idiopathic Scoliosis.  The path I was about to venture on would open my eyes to the variations in the level and manner of care provided by doctors.  My experience took me from the cold and disconnected to the caring and devoted and provided me with an expectation for a certain level of care.

It began with my pediatrician noticing the scoliosis only after it had progressed beyond my younger years, a time, during which I was told, when I might have been able to stop its progression.  On her recommendation, I scheduled an appointment with a spine specialist and hoped for the best.  What I really needed was a caring, optimistic, enthusiastic doctor, who could help me to understand that I was not the only child with scoliosis and that I was going to be all right.  What I met with was something very different.

The specialist reviewed my x-rays and with about as much compassion as a rock, bluntly reported to me that I had a “moderate” case of scoliosis, which would likely result in surgery, but that in the meantime, I would have to wait and see while wearing a body brace for several years, twenty-three hours per day until it was determined that I had stopped growing.  His demeanor left me feeling like I was taking up his valuable time. He barely made eye contact with me making me feel too uncomfortable to ask questions. It was bad enough that I felt like I had been hit with a sledgehammer, but with no compassion or optimism from him, I sat there with clear fear and anger in my eyes, and he offered nothing. He wrote me a referral to see an orthopedist, and that was it. The second we left the room, my mother and I, feeling the same lack of connection with the surgeon, requested to see his associate with the hope of a more personal experience. The meeting with the associate was more comfortable.  There was some optimism on his part, he provided information without us having to ask, and seemed more interested in being sure that we understood what was ahead of us.  I felt that I was being respected as his patient. However, not wanting to be on this path of humiliation and embarrassment of having to live in a large plastic shell, and then have surgery and be home for months on bed rest, and not able to do the physical activity that I love, my mom and I began a search for alternative routes in the hopes of combating the need for surgery.

Our continued extensive research on scoliosis treatments lead us to a progressive support group and a progressive doctor who would help me to feel empowered and to take charge of my scoliosis to the best extent possible. I would not be here swimming for Ithaca College if it were not for Doctor Marc Moramarco, my parents, and my motivation and hard work.

Scoliosis is a medical condition in which the spine is curved from left to right or vice-versa, in the form of a “C” or “S”, and the rib cage is rotated to either the right or left. It throws off the hips, knees and shoulders. A back brace is used in most cases that are above 35 degrees. It is not used to correct scoliosis, only in an attempt to keep it from progressing to the point where surgery is necessary. However, as a patient continues to grow, the spine continues to grow in the curved position, and the back brace may not always prevent it from moving. Surgery is suggested if the curves progress to 45 or 50 degrees.

Working with the orthopedist was easier than working with the spine specialist, who seemed to me to be focused mostly on performing surgery on my spine. His goal was to stop my spine from getting worse.  He created a mold of my body and observed my X-Rays, to make a perfect back brace to hold me in place. I wore this brace every single day hidden under sweatshirts for two and a half years. It took a lot of time to get used to, but even as I began to adapt to it, my next X-Ray told me that my spine shifted and a new piece needed to be added to the brace, making it more difficult to cover up, and more uncomfortable to wear.

My mom and I continued our search for every possible solution to scoliosis. We looked into yoga and different exercises. I saw someone in New York City who tried to teach me specific stretches for my back. I went to yoga classes in New York City that were specific to my spine issue, and I went to support groups with other girls my age, to talk about how to deal with scoliosis.  As much as some of the other professionals tried to help, I felt the frustration in each person’s voice as they tried to help me, and could not.

Surgery was becoming more of an option in my mind because I could not see myself wearing this back brace any longer. It was ruining my mental state. I knew there was no doubt that my spine would shift further and further into the backward “S” shape if I did not continue to wear the brace and that an operation would be needed to insert steel rods into my spine.

This, however, was not the road that I was willing to settle on. I knew there had to be another way besides surgery, and that there had to be someone willing to work with me.

In February of 2011, I went to Woburn, Massachusetts to see Dr. Marc Moramarco, who specializes in scoliosis treatment by using the Schroth Method. When first meeting Dr. Marc, it was immediately obvious that he was truly engaged in this practice.  His enthusiasm was based on his daughter’s experience with scoliosis. Like me, he did not settle for the “wait and see” approach offered by spine surgeons.  He went to Germany and studied this method of treatment until he knew it perfectly enough to take back to his practice in Massachusetts.  His clear goal was to prevent, to the extent possible, other people from having to get surgery. This was the major difference I was looking for and found between Dr. Marc and the other doctors that I had seen.  The elements of care, concern, a good plan, and hope.

I spent a week with Dr. Marc, working intensely for hours each day performing various exercises to strengthen my back.  We worked until he was confident that I would be able to go back home and diligently keep up the work myself. I have never had a better experience with a doctor before.  He spoke to me before we did every exercise and told me exactly what I was going to be doing and how it would help me. He performed tests, took pictures and measurements before and after the week to show me the results of our work and how it paid off.  It was evident that he was profoundly devoted to the technique.  He understood the feelings of helplessness that people with scoliosis experience.  He developed a special trusting relationship with me and my parents who were present with me through every step of the process. Dr. Marc suggested that I call him Marc which helped me to feel less intimidated by the fact that he was a doctor, and to come off more like he was a friend with knowledge. He was genuinely interested in me as a person and shared with me personal things about his life and his daughter’s experience that helped me to better connect with him. We talked about my experiences as a swimmer, and he appreciated and admired my hard work and dedication to the sport as well as to the intense therapy. My parents and I went out to dinner with Marc and his wife Kathy at the end of our week of hard work, and to this day he still emails me asking how I am, and how my swimming is going. Something else I appreciated about Marc is that he asked me to demonstrate a difficult breathing technique to one of his older patients, which showed me that he had faith in my abilities to succeed. I felt honored and proud to be able to teach someone else.

When we returned home and with Marc’s guidance, we transformed our basement into a physical therapy room, and I continued to do the exercises. I was encouraged by Marc via email to keep up my hard work, as he promised it would pay off. I was able to trust Marc because of the relationship we built. After a few months of religiously doing these exercises, I went back to my first spine specialist for a follow-up X-Ray, and to his surprise, my curves had decreased by seven degrees. Since he did not ask if I had been doing anything differently, I offered to him that I had been practicing the Schroth Method.   To my surprise and disappointment, he did not ask any follow-up questions.  I thought he might have used this information to refer to his other patients.  I could not help but wonder if it was more about not wanting to give the credit to either me, Marc, or the Schroth Method, or worse, he just wanted to perform surgery.

To this day, I remain committed to doing my exercises every single day. I do not feel compelled to listen to a spine specialist who was not open to information that might be helpful to me, his patient. To Dr. Marc, on the other hand, I give all the credit for helping me with my back and giving me back my confidence. His proactive approach to my problem allowed me to get results, minimize discomfort, and feel empowered.  I do not know what will happen with my scoliosis in the future, but what I do know is that I will be my own advocate when looking for medical help and that I am entitled to the help that best meets my needs.


Link here to learn more about Scoliosis 3DC.  Does Schroth work? See for yourself in our results section where you can see before and after x-ray results of patients with scoliosis treated at Scoliosis 3DC.

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