As a teenager, she spent five years in back braces trying to reduce her scoliosis curve. But as soon as the brace came off, the curve started progressing again – growing 10 degrees over the next six years.
By age 25, her curve measured 47 degrees — just shy of the high-risk waterline for rapid progression. To prevent the need for surgery, doctors put her on a regimen of scoliosis exercises and measured her progress over the next several months.
After just one year, the patient was able to reduce her curve by nearly 20 degrees.
“When adult scoliosis progresses, it is possible to intervene with specific exercises, not just to get stability, but to recover the last years’ collapse,” researchers concluded.
That is good news for adult Scoliosis Warriors. As many as 70 percent of adults over the age of 60 have scoliosis, and some doctors believe the number will rise over the next two decades as people live longer. Instead of watching helplessly as curves march toward the surgical threshold, these patients can use exercises to not only stop progression in its tracks, and decrease their curves to a more manageable degree.
Four Factors that Affect Curve Progression
It is a common myth that scoliosis progression stops once you reach spinal maturity. Over the course of two decades, four in 10 adult patients will experience curve progression. For most people the increase is mild, but over the years it can add up.
“It has been known for many years that scoliosis can continue to progress after skeletal maturity,” says spinal expert Alessandra Negrini. “Its evolution is slow and insidious and involves both the anatomic and the functional aspect of the curve.”
Whether you had idiopathic scoliosis as a child or have developed de novo (new) scoliosis in adulthood, curve progression is generally influenced by four main factors:
- Age. Age can be an important indicator for scoliosis progression in both adults and children. With idiopathic scoliosis, most progression occurs during adolescence while the bones are still growing. The younger a child is diagnosed, the higher the chance of curve progression. Once idiopathic patients reach adulthood, progression is typically slow and linear. With De Novo scoliosis, it is often the opposite. As adults approach age 65, the risk of degenerative scoliosis progression increases with age and bone density loss. Postural collapse and the resulting spinal degeneration can also play a role in advancing the curves. Many patients don’t know bone health can be determined accurately, conveniently, and inexpensively with a simple urine test at home that is mailed into a lab for analysis.
- Skeletal maturity. Scoliosis progresses faster while the spine is still developing and slows down once its growth is complete. Doctors measure skeletal maturity on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 indicating adult bone growth. Patients with a 0 or 1 rating typically experience 68 percent progression, while those in the 2 to 4 range show only 23 percent curve growth.
- Gender. Idiopathic scoliosis afflicts more females than males, and curves over 30 degrees are 10 times more likely to progress in girls than in boys. Once patients reach adulthood, the incidence of scoliosis in men and women evens out. However, as women reach menopause and become more prone to osteoporosis, they may be at heightened risk of degenerative scoliosis progression. In general, there are two times we see rapid curve progression in female scoliosis patients: when estrogen is introduced in early teen growth spurts, and when estrogen is reduced as patients begin or finish menopause (leading to loss of bone density and bone mass.
- Curve pattern and size. Certain types of curves are more prone to progression than others. Thoracic curves, which occur on the right side 90 percent of the time, and lumbar curves, usually found on the left, are the two curve patterns most likely to progress. Size also matters. Curves that measure more than 30 Cobb degrees at skeletal maturity typically continue to progress, while curves that reach 50 degrees or greater are likely to advance more rapidly than smaller curves.
Exercises for Scoliosis Curve Reduction
Just because you have already reached skeletal maturity doesn’t mean it is too late to achieve scoliosis curve reduction. If curves can still advance, they can still be diminished.
While scoliosis exercises for adolescents focus on allowing normal growth of the vertebrae, adult exercises for scoliosis curve reduction often aim to correct postural collapse and reduce the asymmetric load on the spine, which in the long run reduces the risk of progression. Improved movement quality and the resulting biomechanical changes in the spine’s soft tissues may also play a role in minimizing progression.
Another approach is to use Auto Response Training, which employs involuntary scoliosis exercises that retrain the brain to perceive a different center of balance in the body. By combining the ScoliSMART Activity Suit and other specialized equipment with specific scoliosis exercises, patients can develop new neuromuscular pathways that help rebalance the posture and realign of the spine.
Auto Response Training works for everyone with scoliosis, regardless of age or curve size. In a clinical study, 9 in 10 patients who used the ScoliSMART program stabilized or reduced their curves, while two-thirds of mid- to upper-back curves shrank 6 degrees or more.
Adult Scoliosis Warriors who want to jump-start their treatment can take a multi-dimensional approach with ScoliSMART BootCamp, a 10-day program for patients with curves measuring at least 25 degrees. Through moderate-intensity training, patients spend time getting a handle on their curve progression while learning how to perform scoliosis exercises and continue their treatment at home.
Just because a patient’s curves have continued to progress into adulthood doesn’t mean surgery is the only option. While early intervention works best, even adults with advanced scoliosis can halt progression and achieve curve reduction using the right scoliosis exercises.