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Can a Chiropractor Help with Treating Scoliosis?

ByVivian McNeil

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Some people swear by chiropractors, however, there is controversy as to the efficiency and knowledgeability of chiropractors in the treatment of scoliosis. In this article we will attempt to find out if chiropractic care can be beneficial in improving the spinal Cobb scale of your child’s spine and decreasing or eliminating the pain of this condition. Idiopathic scoliosis is the term used for childhood scoliosis, but adults may suffer from scoliosis as well.

History of Chiropractic Care

It’s quite fascinating to learn why Daniel David Palmer of Davenport, Iowa is credited in the popularization of chiropractic practices. It was because of a serendipitous incident that happened in his office. Prior to this occurrence Palmer held various jobs such as a schoolteacher and grocery store owner and had a prior interest in the various health philosophies of his day, including magnetic healing. Historically, chiropractic care dates back to 1895 and originates from Greek, chiro, meaning “by hand”, and praktos meaning, “done”. It seems to stress a more natural homeopathic philosophy with the emphasis on avoiding both drugs and surgery. In fact, Palmer was a self-taught healer who attempted to find cures for diseases without using drugs. This ancient art of manipulating the body parts, especially the spine, in a gentle but effective way, claims to be able to stop earaches in children, neck pain, spinal disk conditions, osteoarthritis, headaches and other serious debilitating ailments. People are attracted to chiropractors because they emphasize the more conservative methods of treatments instead of more aggressive medical interventions.

Palmer’s Discovery

While in his office, Palmer noticed that the janitor of the building, Harvey Lillard who was bending over bare backed to empty the trash can, had a vertebra out of position. Palmer asked the janitor if he was injured, and the janitor answered that he moved the wrong way and heard a “pop”. The janitor claimed that at the same moment of the “pop” he realized that his hearing was lost! Palmer asked the janitor to lay face down on the floor and adjusted his back. Coming back the next day to Palmer, the janitor announced that his hearing had returned. Amazingly, two years later Palmer opened the first school of chiropractic.

Scoliosis Cure vs. Pain

From this author’s research on chiropractic manipulation, chiropractors look at the whole person and their body not just at the spine curvature. Dr. Dennis Woggon, founder of the Clear Institute, claims that scoliosis does not begin with the Cobb’s angle but rather begins in the head. According to the Clear Institute mantra, the brain needs to be retrained to use the spinal joints and muscles in an entirely different way than it’s used to. In treating scoliosis, the chiropractor will use a combination of different treatments such as, stretches and exercises along with massages. It is his belief that nerve tension is a factor in the development of scoliosis and the relieving of nerve tension will quicken the reshaping of the spine.

Sensorimotor integration (or SMI) is the relationship of the brain to the body or how they communicate. If the body and the brain are in sync, then there will be pain improvement. To help scoliosis patients, the chiropractor must retrain the brain on how to use the body, specifically the spine in new ways that it is not accustomed to.

Dr. Waggon stresses that although scoliosis can be controlled, it cannot be completely cured. If the Cobb angle is below 20 degrees when the patient arrives for their first session, it can be reduced to below 10 degrees and then technically it will no longer be considered scoliosis. Even after a few weeks of treatment, a subtle improvement can be seen in the appearance of the ribs in the back on the right side and in the front on the left side. Before starting treatment, the chiropractor will take x-rays to see the extent of the damage to the spine.

Dr. Waggon’s Clear Institute cautions about chiropractors who look to “unstuck” joints that are stuck or rigid. Scoliosis does not have a joint mobility problem rather it’s the location of the joints that need to be realigned. Traditional chiropractic approaches can aggravate the scoliosis by pressuring the spinal joints and aggravating the surrounding nerves. In other words, each chiropractor must be assessed individually in their treatment of scoliosis.

Many people are misinformed as to what a chiropractor actually does. A controlled force (usually the hand) is applied in the exact direction to a spinal joint that is so called, “locked up” or not moving correctly. This procedure will correct the structural alignment and remove any blockages there may be in the nervous system. This should cause improved spinal function with a reduction of pain. The patient is supposed to have an overall improvement in their mood and overall wellness. If done correctly a spinal adjustment should not cause pain since the force and pressure are gentle and minimal. If there is soreness it should feel like starting a new exercise program. Just like with exercising, drinking lots of water and maybe using an ice pack initially can help with any feeling of discomfort when you begin working with a chiropractor.

Difference Between a Physical Therapist & Chiropractor

Although physical therapists and chiropractors often treat the same conditions and areas of the body, they are coming from different perspectives, expectations, and outcomes for their clients.

Chiropractors emphasize how the nervous system and brain influence disorders of the joints and spine. To become a chiropractor, a student needs to complete a bachelor’s degree, receive a Doctor of Chiropractic degree after completing an accredited program and then pass a license certification test.

Physical therapists with the same training differ in their approach and exercise regimens. Personally, I can attest to having used three different physical therapists for my own back issues and they were each unique. Some gave a massage before beginning treatment to loosen tight muscles while another gave a hot compress before beginning a session. Still another gave a cold compress upon ending the session. Each one had totally different exercise routines and tools. One stayed close by during the entire session giving me individual attention while another put me on the stationary bike and left me alone in the room.

Physical therapy began by filling a gap for the overwork of doctors and nurses with soldiers after World War 1. They helped those soldiers who were not able to walk independently to live a more productive life. These therapists work with both hands-on manual therapy and neuromuscular education and exercises that patients are prescribed to follow up at home.

To become a physical therapist, the student completes their bachelor’s degree, receives a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and passes an exam to complete their licensing. Then they must participate in a residency program and receive additional experience and expertise.

Putting It All Together

The world of chiropractors is intriguing. Their patients run the gamut of the medical patient population. There may be some that are experts in certain areas such as scoliosis. They believe in working in conjunction with bracing and surgery. Then there are the more extreme types of chiropractors who have certain specific beliefs such as anti-vaccination, anti-drug, and pro-herbal. These people should be approached with caution especially with a condition in children such as scoliosis. Scoliosis if left untreated or mistreated is not a condition that is dormant. As the child grows the curve will get worse and someone who is working exclusively with a chiropractor will miss the margin of opportunity of non- surgical corrections such as bracing and physical therapy.

Even the most knowledgeable chiropractor explained scoliosis this way. “It is vital to understand on the onset that scoliosis pain can be treated though not curable….it is most often compared to diabetes which happens to be a condition that requires continuous care.” Yes, it’s true that scoliosis takes a while to cure, but I don’t think that a scoliosis specialist will speak in this way. Scoliosis is a condition that is considered curable when a prescribed regimen of bracing (if necessary) and physical therapy are utilized simultaneously. From my research it seems that most chiropractors concentrate on pain relief sans drugs while scoliosis brace and physical therapists concentrate on a solution.

Some chiropractors will work along with scoliosis centers to give pain relief to those who suffer while ongoing scoliosis treatment. Those chiropractors are experts at light touch massaging which will not injure delicate tissues and bones in the mid-therapy years. Relaxation techniques can be helpful for children and teens who are stressed from wearing their bracing for such long stretches.

Final Words

It is critical that your child gets an accurate scoliosis diagnosis and treatment regimen before even thinking about visiting a chiropractor. Most chiropractors are not trained to diagnose scoliosis abnormalities. They can therefore miss a primary cause of scoliosis or any other related issues. So, do not use a chiropractor as a diagnostician and only with the complete consent of your scoliosis therapist agree to let your child be treated by a competent and recommended chiropractor.

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