For adolescent girls and adults diagnosed with scoliosis severe enough to need treatment — especially young girls, whose scoliosis of unknown origin (IAS) is by far the most common form of scoliosis — treatment options are heartbreaking. Actually, there are 38,000 scoliosis surgeries annually in the USA costing approximately $7.1 billion.
When their bodies are changing and their peer group is becoming all-important, these young girls are put in disagreeable braces or subjected to surgery. Untreated
scoliosis can progress at 7 percent per year, and result in disability and life-threatening health risks.
Bracing, the most conservative treatment, consists of confining body orthotics worn up to 23 hours a day. In addition, one of the most popular bracing methods calls for patients to exercise in two-hour sessions three times per week for three to four months. Patients are then advised to continue exercises for half an hour a day as long as they live.The bracing is unwieldy and lengthy exercising is socially awkward, emotionally painful and physically difficult. European studies find a profound drop in self-esteem and a dramatic rise in depressive symptoms accompany bracing.
Medical yoga has been so effective for so many different ailments that I decided to try it for scoliosis. Experience had already shown that patients can’t or don’t want to spend hours or a lot of money. I looked for a relatively simple pose that could be applied to scoliosis, done in a brief time, at home after minimal instruction.
Since scoliosis is an asymmetrical condition, I thought about poses that could be done asymmetrically, on one side only. It made sense that strengthening the muscles on the weak (bulging) side of the curve would make those muscles powerful enough to pull the spine into a straighter position. The Side Plank (Vasisthasana) could make the relevant spinal muscles stronger for the primary curves I focused on initially when I began a clinical trial.
My first patient, the one who inspired the clinical trial, was an older woman brought to me by her yoga-teaching daughter. Her curve was 108 degrees, and was affecting her breathing and cardiac function to the extent that she could not have surgery. I told her we could try using yoga which might slow down or maybe even halt the progression of the curve. It never occurred to me then that we could reverse the curve. Continue reading >>