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Is Chiropractic Effective in Treating Scoliosis?

Is Chiropractic Effective in Treating Scoliosis?

If you or a loved one shows signs of scoliosis you may be wondering about possible treatment options. Although scoliosis develops most commonly in children during puberty, it’s also possible to develop this spinal deformity as an adult. It’s important to realize that there is no cure for scoliosis. But there are several treatment options available, one of which is chiropractic care. But this still begs the question: is chiropractic effective in treating scoliosis?

Chiropractic has shown promise in treating scoliosis that doesn’t require surgery or other drastic protocols. The effectiveness of chiropractic treatment varies from case to case, with some chiropractors recommending alternative treatments. Chiropractic is very effective for monitoring and reducing the need for surgery in many scoliosis cases.

Read on to understand if chiropractic treatment is right for you or your loved one.

Identifying Scoliosis

Scoliosis can be difficult to identify at first. In children, it’s often diagnosed by a physician or doctor of chiropractic. Some symptoms to look out for:

  • Uneven hips
  • Ill-fitting clothes
  • One protruding shoulder blade
  • C- or S-shaped curve of the spine when viewed from the back
  • Pain, difficulty breathing, and muscle spasms in severe cases

Chiropractic Treatment Options

Chiropractic treatment for scoliosis depends on many different factors. This is why chiropractors perform a detailed diagnosis of their patients. This typically includes questions about your family medical history, x-rays of the spine, a physical evaluation, and reflex testing, among others. This will help the doctor of chiropractic determine which type of scoliosis it is and how to go about treating it. The specific type of scoliosis is also a determining factor in chiropractic treatment.

Ther different types of scoliosis and their common chiropractic treatment options are:

  • Idiopathic
    • This is the most common type of scoliosis in children. It accounts for nearly 80% of childhood scoliosis and there is no known cause. Common treatment options include chiropractic manipulation, exercises, and bracing.
  • Neuromuscular
    • This type of scoliosis is congenital and caused by a failure of the bones of the spine to separate as the fetus develops. Neuromuscular scoliosis is often accompanied by other birth defects such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. Treatment options can include chiropractic manipulation, physical therapy, and exercises.
  • Degenerative
    • Degenerative scoliosis generally happens in adults as the result of a degenerative disease such as arthritis in the spinal joints. Treatment options are aimed at relieving pain because deformity isn’t likely to occur. These options include chiropractic manipulation, hot and cold therapy, nutrition, weight loss, and physical therapy.
  • Functional
    • Functional scoliosis is usually caused by some other issue in the skeleton, such as one leg being significantly shorter than the other. In some cases this type of scoliosis can cause spinal issues that may be treated with spinal stretching, strengthening exercises, spinal manipulation, and heel inserts.

In addition to the types of scoliosis, there are also categories that are based on the age of the patient.

  • Infantile - 3 years and younger.
  • Juvenile - 3 to 10 years old.
  • Adolescent - 10 to 18 years old.
  • Adult - 18 and over.

The type and category of scoliosis will be essential in a chiropractor’s suggested treatment plan. Since most scoliosis happens during puberty, we’ll discuss the safety and efficacy of chiropractic for the treatment of children with scoliosis.

Is Chiropractic Care Safe for Children with Scoliosis?

It’s scary enough to find out that your child has scoliosis, no matter how mild it is. The last thing you want is to put them in harm’s way by choosing the wrong treatment option. Luckily, you can rest easy with professional and qualified chiropractors. In fact, many studies have found chiropractic care to be safe for children.

Chiropractic Treatment for Children With Scoliosis

The treatment options for your child will vary depending mostly on the severity of the curvature and the age of the child. If the spinal curvature is passed a certain point (usually 35-degrees) while the child still has many years of growth left, the treatment options will probably be somewhat aggressive while still remaining safe and non-invasive. In extreme cases (about 10%), the chiropractor may recommend a surgeon.

The vast majority of childhood scoliosis cases will require a period of observation to determine if the curve of the spine is getting worse. For many children, the spine will straighten on its own as they grow into adulthood. But, to make sure that the scoliosis is not getting worse, it’s a good idea to schedule regular visits to the chiropractor.

For those children whose scoliosis is far enough along to require treatment, there are several non-invasive and effective options that should always be tried before surgery. A few of the common chiropractic treatments for scoliosis include:

  • Chiropractic Adjustment
    • Usually this involves hands-on adjustments to reposition the vertebrae and promote normal movement of the spine.
  • Rehabilitative Therapy
    • For increasing flexibility of the spine.
  • Electrical Stimulation
    • For reducing and preventing spasms while strengthening muscles to better support the spine.
  • Muscle Strengthening Exercises
    • For returning strength to the atrophied muscles, usually on the compressed side of the spinal column.
  • Bracing
    • In some cases, a brace may be required to stop the progression of scoliosis and promote natural growth and curvature of the spine.

Adult Scoliosis and Spinal Issues

While not as common, it is possible for adults to develop scoliosis. Women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from scoliosis than men. The same can be said for girls and boys as children. There can be several reasons for adult scoliosis. The first being a case of juvenile scoliosis continuing into adulthood.

Most commonly, adult women who had thought that their scoliosis was a thing of the past had it return during pregnancy. This is thought to be the result of pregnancy-related hormones. Finally, degenerative scoliosis, as mentioned above, can happen to those who have never before had scoliosis.

No matter the cause, chiropractic care can help. In fact, a 2011 study found that chiropractic care had a positive effect on adults with scoliosis even 2 years after they had stopped treatment. The patients reported improvements in pain levels, disability, Cobb angle (angle of the spine’s abnormal curvature), and other physiological factors.

Treatment options for adults are often similar to those for adolescents and children suffering from scoliosis.

  • Spinal adjustments
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Chiropractic massage
  • Muscle-strengthening exercises
  • Rehabilitative therapy
  • Adult brace

The Bottom Line: Chiropractic and Scoliosis

Since there are so many different factors in determining treatment for scoliosis, it’s hard to say whether chiropractic treatment will be right for you. Every person’s body is different and a chiropractor won’t know the best course for treatment until he or she sees you or your loved one. They will consider factors such as age, previous treatments (if any), severity of the curve, type of scoliosis, and other health and medical factors.

Chiropractic care has been an effective treatment of scoliosis in both adults and children. However, it’s always best to catch scoliosis early, for the greatest results. If you or a loved one might have scoliosis, contact a professional chiropractor today.


Dr. Brent Wells - Anchorage Chiropractor
About the Author

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.

Dr. Brent Wells has been a trusted chiropractor since moving his family from Oregon to Alaska back in 1998 and founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab – B.S. from Univ. of Nevada, Doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, volunteer for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation, and member of the American Chiropractic Association. As a chiropractor his focus is on family, including his 3 children and wife of 20+ years, his clinics, and ongoing education.

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