Scoliosis, the medical term for curvature of the spine, affects millions of Americans, an estimated 2 to 3% of the population. For the most severe cases—curves that exceed 45 degrees—surgical intervention may be necessary.
But for the majority of people diagnosed with scoliosis, your doctor will advise non-invasive treatments, each clinically proven to forestall the need for surgery. Here are a few.
Curvatures that range between 25 to 30 degrees without significant pain or weakness might not demand treatment. Such easily manageable scoliosis calls for a “watching, waiting and observing” approach through regular checkups.
By observing the status of your symptoms, your doctor can monitor curvature progression and determine the need for additional treatment.
2. Exercise and posture
Scoliosis treatments aim at stopping the progression of the condition, and improving your posture by strengthening the back muscles is critical to countering back pain and degeneration. Back-muscle-focused exercises help to manage scoliosis indirectly by strengthening the muscles around the curve.
I also encourage activities like walking, swimming and resistance training to maintain a healthy weight and enhance bone health. Stretching, meanwhile, will improve mobility and flexibility.
3. Pain relief medication
Because scoliosis at any stage can cause pain and discomfort, I recommend easily accessible over-the-counter treatments like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and muscle relaxers, which, as long as they are only used occasionally, can relieve pain with fewer side effects. Ice and/or heat can also help with inflammation and muscle soreness.
If your pain grows more severe, your doctor may also prescribe temporary steroid treatment or refer you to a pain management specialist for spinal injections.
4. Physical therapy
Physical therapists are trained to alleviate pain by improving the functionality of the spine, muscles and ligaments. Scoliosis can put pressure on the spinal nerves, which may trigger backaches and other discomforts.
Physical therapy works to improve the body’s mechanics, potentially stopping advancements of the spine’s curvature. It is also designed specially for people with scoliosis to help you offset the effects of this spinal condition. With time, physical therapy can help you walk with optimal posture and reduce pain and discomfort.
Non-invasive treatments for scoliosis will not correct the curvature of the spine. But under medical supervision, and with the right execution and expertise, they can help keep your symptoms manageable.
Don’t let a scoliosis diagnosis keep you from enjoying all life has to offer. If you’re experiencing scoliosis symptoms, find a scoliosis expert near you.
About the author
K. Michael Webb, MD, is a neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Specialty Clinic – Lakeway. His clinical interests include surgery for adult spinal deformities such as scoliosis, as well as pituitary gland tumors, brain tumors and surgery on the peripheral nerves.