Martha Carter Talks About Her Healing Journey - Part 14

About other Scoliosis-Specific Exercise Methods

This is Part 14 of a serial blog post. In Part 13, I talk about options for managing scoliosis and offer a glimpse into the depth of study, time and training it took to get certified to teach Yoga for Scoliosis. In Part 12, I share experiences from my 200-hour Yoga Teacher training on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. Missed the earlier posts? Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8,  Part 9, Part 10 and Part 11.

Please note: In all my posts, when I refer to people with scoliosis, I mean everyone and all kinds. Where necessary, I will refer to the specific needs of different kinds of scoliosis, including fusions.

Since I had my Harrington rods removed, I have explored and discovered many therapies. Aside from Yoga for Scoliosis, which has been my main focus, there are three other popular Scoliosis-targeted exercise methods that are becoming more available and showing promising results.

1. Scolio-Pilates - an extension of Pilates, which is an alignment, strengthening and overall wellness exercise method.

2. The Schroth method - a scoliosis-specific physiotherapy developed in Germany.

3. ScoliSMART™ - an extension of physiotherapy that uses equipment and special ‘Activity Suits’ to rebalance asymmetry in the body and repattern the mind-body.

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, it can be extremely helpful to develop a self-care practice to manage the chronic pain and discomfort that comes with scoliosis. The three techniques listed above have been developed with the intention of helping twisty people avoid ‘corrective’ spine fusion surgery. All three can also help people who are required to have surgery, although the exercises will often need to be adapted.

Remember, like all supportive care choices for scoliosis, it is important to explore what technique and/or which practitioner feels like the best fit for you.

Depending on one’s health care plan, these techniques may or may not be covered by insurance. In Canada, for example, although the cost of surgery is covered for everyone, the costs of non-surgical methods are only covered if there is an extended insurance plan.

Here is a bit about of each of these three methods (with links where pertinent):

1. Scolio-Pilates

This variation of Pilates was developed as a three-dimensional exercise program for individuals with scoliosis. Using a combination of mat exercises, soft foam wedges, and designated Pilates machines, the exercises elongate the spine and bring it back towards a neutral position. Specific Pilates strengthening exercises are used to support the spine in its new alignment.

Scolio-Pilates is very precise. It’s not so much about how many ‘reps’ you do, or how much weight you lift. Its value lies in the very detailed, specific instructions and hands-on corrections that are given to help optimize each individual’s awareness, posture, strength and symmetry.

I was personally introduced to the original Pilates technique during dance school, long before I had my Harrington rods removed. At first, I found the exercises awkward, and some felt completely impossible. Since I had not yet learned how to visualize or talk about my own scoliosis or my fusion, I was not able to communicate well with the instructor. The sessions did not go well or continue for very long.

Many years later, while I was learning about Yoga for Scoliosis, I started to meet Scolio-Pilates instructors who were taking TOPS workshops to learn more about scoliosis. Their enthusiasm inspired me to try it again, and I started doing privates - and this time I was far better in communications with the teacher, given I knew more about my own curve and fusion.

Since then, Scolio-Pilates has become a regular part of my physical practice; it’s constantly teaching me new awareness, alignment and strength. I find it particularly beneficial when I am experiencing chronic flare-ups from my asymmetry.

Privates are more expensive, but they are worth it. Many Scolio-Pilates teachers insist on ONLY teaching privates for people with major asymmetries, as they want to focus on the best exercises for each individual. This makes sense for the student as well. I certainly recommend the same with yoga, for anyone who has scoliosis or another particular physical condition. In fact, regardless of the technique, privates are a great way to get started with any particular exercise program.

If you are not sure where to start, specialized workshops are also be a great way to get introduced to different techniques and find appropriate practitioners.

For example, during a TOPS Scolio-Pilates workshop, one young woman was in so much pain that she could hardly stand straight. It was heartbreaking to watch her tear up as she told me afterwards how she didn’t want fusion surgery, but didn’t know what else to do. As unfortunately happens, the surgeon had no recommendations except for surgery. Over the years, a cycle of depression and chronic pain had led her to non-action, which further led to weakness, muscle atrophy, lack of body confidence, and fear.

Thanks to the internet, she had found TOPS, and came to a workshop where she met one of our Scolio-Pilates associates. After the workshop, she started taking private sessions regularly for several months which helped her immediately. She gained length, decompression, height, breath capacity, and most important - strength and confidence. Her pain had completely calmed down, her curve was less pronounced, and she could stand up straight!  

Check out the TOPS Team page to find a Scolio-Pilates teacher in the Vancouver area.

For more information about Scolio-Pilates, read this article by acclaimed physiotherapist and Pilates for Scoliosis expert, Dr. Suzanne Martin.

The Schroth Method and ScoliSMART™ Clinics: Non-Surgical Scoliosis Treatment

DISCLAIMER: Canada has very few Schroth or ScoliSmart clinics so I have had very little personal exposure to these two methods. From what I have read, these methods can be very valuable for helping people with scoliosis, especially during the developmental years. The descriptions below are based on research, as well as my own personal exchanges with experienced teachers and students.

2. The Schroth Method

Katharina Schroth, born in 1894 in Dresden, Germany, suffered from a moderate scoliosis and underwent treatment with a steel brace at the age of 16 years old. Eventually, she started experimenting with exercises, which led her to develop a more functional approach for herself.

She explored breathing with a balloon, and repatterning with a mirror, recognizing that postural control can only be achieved by changing postural perception. This was the basis of what ultimately became The Schroth Method.

Over the years, with the help of her daughter Christa, they established a large clinic where patients could live and train in a kind of boot-camp style for an average of six weeks. They also started training physiotherapists to share their work internationally. The clinic held promising research studies that showed success in reducing pain, stopping curve progression, and increasing lung capacity - without the need for surgery.

According to their website, their 3-Step Process is:

1. Establish the proper pelvis position corrections.
2. Do spinal elongation and then rotational angular breathing (RAB) techniques to move the spine and ribs into best possible posture.
3. Tense the trunk muscles isometrically, in order to strengthen weak muscles and preserve the corrected posture.

Click here to visit their website and read more about The Schroth Method.

To find Schroth practitioners worldwide go here.

To contact the ScoliClinic, Vancouver’s first Schroth-based clinic, go here.

There are also clinics that are inspired by Schroth, but offer a more multi-disciplinary approach, such as Scoliosis SOS in London, England and Scoliosis 3DC in Massachussetts, USA.

3. ScoliSMART™ Clinics: Non-Surgical Scoliosis Treatment

I became aware of ScoliSMART™ Clinics for Non-Surgical Scoliosis Treatment thanks to Facebook. The Director of a clinic in Pennsylvania, Dr .Clayton Stitzel, hosts a Scoliosis Warriors facebook page which has 31,360 members! Along with functioning as promotion for the ScoliSMART™ program, it is also a great forum for quick questions and responses about scoliosis, bracing, surgery and treatments in general.

What interests me about the ScoliSMART™ method is their focus on exercises that encourage repatterning of the brain and body connection. Although I have not had personal experience with their work, the testimonials show very positive results for many people.

To share a bit more about them, here is some text pulled from their website:

ScoliSMART™Clinics are an American-based group of clinics specializing in working with people with scoliosis. Their non-surgical treatment is rooted in physiotherapy and combines a nutritional approach with the use of static and dynamic auto response training equipment. This equipment stimulates the spinal reflexes and subconscious brain control that influence alignment of the spine.

The ScoliSMART™ approach offers an opportunity to try something different rather than bracing and/or surgery. It is definitely better than that ‘wait and see’ approach that too many doctors subscribe to.

One big component of the method is The ScoliSMART™ Activity Suit which is the latest innovation in non-surgical scoliosis treatment. Designed to work with the natural torque pattern of human locomotion, The Activity Suit harnesses energy of human’s natural movement to create new muscle memory. This new muscle memory reduces and stabilizes asymmetrical muscle firing thereby reducing risk of curve progression and helping the spine unwind naturally, never forced. Unlike bracing, the ScoliSMART™ Activity Suit does not use direct pressure on the peaks of the curves to force correction as forcing correction does not induce new muscle memory.

To read more about the Activity Suit, go here.

Next month is Scoliosis Awareness Month! Yeah! And June 30 is International Scoliosis Awareness Day! To mark this occasion, for my next blog, I am going to talk all about something I know very well: Fusions! I realize that I often talk about people having scoliosis as ‘one thing’ when we all know that a non-fused scoliosis and a fused scoliosis can be two very different realities. There are less fused folks, so we are often the minority. So to give the fused folks some love, I will talk about fusions in general, the different methods and how they have evolved, the impact of having fusion surgery, how best to handle exercise with a fused spine, and more.

Along those lines, please note: I am currently preparing to hold my first Fusion Yoga Retreat (for people with fused spines) in Sept 2018, so I have been thinking about this subject a lot recently! 

Click here to learn more about Scoliosis Awareness Month.

Click here to learn more about International Scoliosis Day.