The problem - scoliosis
In April of 2010, my daughter was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition involving abnormal curvature of the spine. In scoliosis, the spine curves from side to side, and there is usually spinal twisting or rotation. A normal amount of sitting or standing can be very painful for the scoliosis sufferer. There can also be issues with uneven shoulders and/or hips, as well as "humps" caused by the twisting of the rib cage to abnormal positions.
In the U.S., the standard treatment options for scoliosis are bracing and, if the curves are 40 degrees or greater, surgery. The surgery involves straightening the spine to some degree, and then fusing the vertebrae together with bone grafts. Metal rods and screws are also inserted along the spine to offer support until the fusion takes place. Since this is major surgery, the rods are generally not removed after fusion has taken place.
My daughter's original diagnosis was a 40 degree lumbar curve. Because she was 14 and near the end of her growth phase, the doctor did not recommend bracing, and suggested checking her again in 6 months to see if the curve progressed. He felt that she would eventually need surgery, and offered no other recommendations for treatment.
I began to search for a more conservative, non-surgical alternative for treatment. There was plenty of information on the Internet to cull through, and it was difficult to separate legitimate options from ineffective treatments, or even just plain quackery. I finally found something called the Schroth Method, and felt that out of everything out there, it offered the best hope for us to avoid surgery and relieve the back pain of scoliosis.
History of the Schroth Method
The Schroth Method is a physiotherapeutic system of exercises for scoliosis, which was developed years ago in Germany. The initial program was developed by Katharina Schroth (1894-1985), a scoliosis sufferer herself. She spent many hours in front of a mirror, observing the changes in her torso due to various postural corrections and breathing techniques.
She had been trained as a teacher, and was able to share her system of exercises with other scoliosis patients, and eventually opened a clinic in Germany. Her daughter, Christa Lehnert-Schroth, a trained physical therapist, worked with her on further developing her exercises. Although no longer owned by the Schroth family, the Asklepios Katharina-Schroth Klinic today serves over 1000 patients annually. This treatment is covered by the German health insurance system, and German orthopedic doctors routinely refer scoliosis patients there for non-surgical treatment.
One of the basic premises of the Schroth system is that, regardless of the cause of the scoliosis, the muscle groups which support the spine have become asymmetrical. Some of the muscles are longer than they should be, some are shorter. The resulting imbalances keep the scoliotic spine pulled into abnormal curves and twists, and unless corrective actions are taken, the problem builds upon itself.
The Schroth Method first assesses and classifies the patient's curve. Following this, the patient is taught exercises that are specific to his or her curve. The exercises are designed to help the patient counter the effects of gravity and uneven muscle pull on their spines. They learn to correct their postural positions and perform strengthening and breathing exercises. The patient will perform frequent repetitions of the exercises over the course of their lifetimes for optimal benefits.
Today, many patients also use bracing in conjunction with Schroth therapy. The Rigo Cheneau brace is specifically designed to work well with the Schroth Method.
How to Find a Schroth Certified Therapist
When we decided that we wanted to pursue Schroth therapy, I had to find a therapy location that would work for us. Of course, there was the original clinic in Germany, which would have been a pretty expensive option. There is also a well-known clinic in Spain, run by Dr. Manuel Rigo - still a pretty expensive option just with the travel costs alone, but if you had the money and time, these would be the two premier locations in the world to get treatment.
Looking for something closer to home, I found the Scoliosis Rehab Clinic, with two locations in Wisconsin and Arizona. Started by two women whose own children had scoliosis, this clinic's therapists were trained by Dr. Rigo in Spain. They offer an intensive treatment program at their facilities. Still not sure that this was what I wanted, I discovered that Scoliosis Rehab had begun a Schroth certification program for physical therapists, and I was lucky to find one of their certified therapists just a few hours away from where we live. Although I didn't find a list of Scoliosis Rehab's certified therapists on their web site, it would be worth a phone call to them to see if there is someone in your area. Also, Christa Lehnert-Schroth has a web site with a list of certified therapists - I don't know how often it is updated.
We have been through two 5-day physical therapy sessions, for 2 hours each day. We came home with a customized exercise program which my daughter does 5 days a week. She is also building up her wearing time of the RSC brace. She will eventually wear it all night and maybe a little while watching TV.
My Expectations for Schroth Therapy
I don't expect Schroth therapy to cure my daughter's scoliosis. However, my goal is to help her avoid surgery on her back, keep the curves from getting worse, and reduce (and hopefully eliminate) her back pain. This is pretty much in line with claims on the Schroth Method web site:
"THE SCHROTH METHOD HELPS PATIENTS TO:
- Halt curve progression
- Reduce pain
- Increase vital capacity
- At least partly reverse abnormal curvatures
- Improve posture and appearance
- Maintain improved posture lifelong
- Avoid surgery"
So my expectations seem pretty reasonable, and hopefully the Schroth Method will help us meet our goals.
This hub is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional when deciding on treatment for scoliosis.
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Schroth Method Book
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on October 16, 2015:
TK, we did Schroth for about 8 months, but had to give it up due to other pressing health issues with my daughter. In my opinion Schroth and bracing are the most effective non-invasive treatment, but I've had very little involvement with the scoliosis for the past two years.
TK on October 16, 2015:
@Donna, just wondering as it has been a few years since the article was written, whether you had found any other non invasive forms of treatment for scoliosis or whether in your personal opinion you consider Schroth method to be the most effective?
My 12 year old still many years to grow so wondering whether I should do or try anything else other than bracing and schroth exercise to prevent further curving?
Thank you for any comments.
TK on October 16, 2015:
Thank you Donna for the wealth of information set out in your thoughtful article!
rita brown on September 30, 2014:
looking for schroth therapist near sarasota florida;
Sara on November 19, 2013:
I am an adult who has used the Schroth method and found it beneficial. It is painful at first to teach new muscles to take on work they aren't used to doing. However, I have found that I get the most out of Schroth exercises if I also do physical therapy to loosen up bunched muscles and some muscles that like to "stick" on the ribs. It's easier and less painful to do the exercises if my muscles are relaxed.
catherine sultana on November 07, 2013:
We've recently started up with physical therapy on advice from a rheumatologist. Our daughter has complained since about 7 years of age of not being able to walk long distances and her limbs being sore. In addition, when she stopped wearing her brace she has developed back pain which makes exercise and walking difficult. The PT discovered that one leg is longer by 1 inch which probably accounts for the limb and pelvis pain. Also since wearing the brace her musculature has not been maintained so she is now doing exercises to develop the core muscles and to help those muscles affected by the curve to relax. She has had improper posture too so that is another thing the PT is instructing her. Since our daughter is feeling the pain she is very motivated to do the work and already the corrected posture is helping with the pain and length of time that she can exercise in gym class. Per the PT it would not have mattered if our daughter had started pt while in brace but now she'll have to maintain her back strength for the remainder of her life.
Tracy on November 07, 2013:
My 11 year old was diagnosed with severe scoliosis 2 months ago- 30 & 35 degree S curve. She just started wearing a brace(16 hours a day). The concern is that she may still have quite a lot of growth left. Naturally, we want to avoid surgery. She is also a competitive Irish dancer, and practices rigorously 6-8 hours a week competing at a national level. Unfortunately back pain has been been slowing her down, and we are not sure she will be able to continue with her sport at this level. Heartbreaking, as this has been our life for 8 years.. We are looking at Scroth and another similar method offered by our chiropractor/PT . Hoping the combination of brace & exercises will stabilize curve- help the muscles support the spine, and reduce back pain so she can remain active. She loves dance, and I cannot imagine her not doing some form of it throughout life. It is very disheartening that there seems to be so little treatment options for scoliosis. I'm not hearing any amount of promise from any of our health providers. I also suffer from a milder form of scoliosis, and have limited(physically/athletically)as an adult. It is very disheartening to think I have genetically passed this condition on to my daughter, who may have to give up her dreams of becoming a professional dancer.. Looking for some valid scoliosis success stories out there! Thanks for your post..
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on April 03, 2013:
Catherine, right now she is just wearing her Rigo Cheneau brace at night. She hasn't been doing the Schroth for about a year, but I hope we will get back to the exercises soon - there has just been a lot of other stuff going on. She took a break from the exercises starting in April of 2012 and her summer X-ray that year didn't show much change from the year before...so the good news was that the curve didn't progress.
catherine sultana on April 03, 2013:
At my daughter's latest appointment she was told she was done growing (?!) and that she no longer needed to wear her brace. Her curve was reduced to 30 degrees over this 1 year period. We haven't begun with Schroth or a physical therapist, but given that your daughter's condition wasn't treated until after she had stopped growing, I'm curious to learn what she is doing for her back now.
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on April 02, 2013:
Physical therapy is not part of the orthopedic doctor's standard of care in the U.S., although it has been in Europe for many years. I think it can benefit some scoliosis patients and is certainly worth checking out - good luck to your brother!
Katee Shew from Canada on April 02, 2013:
My brother suffers from scoliosis as well, it's an awful thing to deal with. He is always looking for more information on the subject, I am going to share this hub with him. Thank you.
catherine sultana on December 09, 2012:
Our daughter uses the TLS brace and her last xray showed 6 degree increase to 36 on upper curve. Since she has lost interest in swimming, I am looking at schroth as something to keep/maintain her flexibility and something she'll likely do through adulthood. She's at risser 4 but at 12 yoa getting to 5 may be awhile. Thanks for the feedback and I really appreciated your well written article.
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on December 08, 2012:
She followed it pretty well for 10 months. We have been on an 8-month break due to other priorities; however we would like to get back on the program soon. She has also been wearing her RSC brace throughout. Her last X-ray showed only a slight increase in curve, so we felt like the Schroth successfully met our goals.
Catherine Sultana on December 08, 2012:
My daughter is going through same diagnosis. Am curious to learn how well your daughter is following schroth method. I really appreciated your thorough article.
Catharina Kiaha on April 12, 2012:
How is your daugthter doing? Please keep us posted.
Donna Fairley Huebsch (author) from Clearwater, Florida on October 29, 2011:
We are 4 months into the Schroth exercise program and 2 months into wearing the RSC brace. So far, so good! We are due for some in-brace x-rays soon, so those results will be interesting.
drsidchiro from NY, NY 10036 on October 29, 2011:
Donna how did everything turn out?