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Physical Therapy for Scoliosis

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before and after physical therapy

Scoliosis: Before and After Pictures from an early 20th Century Exercise Program

Left photo - Patient with left dorsal curve in 1900. Right photo - Same patient in 1905 after five years of exercise and stretching treatment from a technique that was advocated by orthopedic surgeons in the early 1900s but has unfortunately fallen out of favor in recent decades in favor of surgery and bracing.

Source: page 133, Lateral Curvature of the Spine and Round Shoulders, Robert W. Lovett, M.D., John B. and Buckminster Brown Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Harvard Medical School. Published 1916, by P. Blakiston's Son & Co., Philadelphia. Third Edition.

Contrary to popular medical dogma that exercise therapy isn't effective for scoliosis, with the help of my physical therapist and some good books, I was able to reduce most of my scoliotic curves with exercises, trigger point therapy and yoga. Orthopedic surgeons of today often state that exercise and physical therapy can't help spinal curvature, but this wasn't always a commonly held belief by medical doctors.

In the early 1900s, a form of physical therapy referred to as "gymnastics" was often the treatment of choice for mild scoliosis. When they referred to gymnastics in those days, they didn't mean the kind of competitive gymnastics you see on ESPN or the Olympics. It was actually their term for what we would call physical therapy today. Therapeutic gymnastics from the early 1900's involved stretching, exercises and the use of traction from machines that had names like "trunk bending apparatus" and "shoulder pushing apparatus". The apparatus equipment of the early 20th century was similar to modern traction equipment.

On page 135 of Lateral Curvature of the Spine and Round Shoulders, published in 1916, the author, Dr. Robert W. Lovett writes that, "In mild structural scoliosis efficient gymnastics should constitute the sole treatment, and may be continued as the sole treatment so long as the improvement from one exercise period exists until the next one." (Emphasis added.) The before and after pictures shown above taken from the Lovett book illustrate a significantly reduced curve in a young woman after a number of years of gymnastic treatment.

Interestingly, many of the gymnastic stretching exercises illustrated in the Lovett book are similar to yoga poses that are often recommended today for back problems. The illustration below was taken from page 142 of the book. Note that the exercise is very similar to the cobra pose, a yoga posture commonly referred to as a back strengthener.

torso lifting back exercise

woman in yoga cobra pose   If it works, it works. The cobra pose in yoga is similar to the back exercise in the Lovett book.


Related Links:

Preoperative skeletal traction in scoliosis. - "Preoperative traction resulted in an average improvement of the curves of 34 degrees, or 41 per cent of the initial curve." from The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 1975 Jul;57(5):616-9

Scoliosis treatment using a combination of manipulative and rehabilitative therapy: a retrospective case series - " The combined use of spinal manipulation and postural therapy appeared to significantly reduce the severity of the Cobb angle in all 19 subjects. These results warrant further testing of this protocol." - BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2004, 5:32

Treatment of adult lumbar scoliosis with axial spinal unloading using the LTX3000 Lumbar Rehabilitation System. - "Results from this study showed a significant decrease in Cobb angle measurements in the lumbar curvature during the intervention phase. Once the home intervention program was terminated, the lateral lumbar curvature reverted to baseline values (pre-intervention)." Spine. 2002 Feb 1;27(3):E71-9

For more information on physical therapy, exercise and scoliosis, please refer to the articles below.





Related Sections -

Scoliosis Alternative Treatments (Exercise, Diet & Yoga)

Books and Tips with Scoliosis Exercises

How Balancing My Muscles Helped My Spinal Curvature

Yoga for Scoliosis - Frequently Asked Questions

Alternative Therapies for Scoliosis

Scoliosis Cause: Clues From Associated Conditions

Does Physical Therapy for Scoliosis Help?

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