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Massage as an Alternative Treatment for Scoliosis

About Scoliosis

Six million Americans are living with scoliosis, a condition resulting in an abnormal curvature of the spine that can impact an individual’s quality of life depending upon its severity. Approximately 1 in 1,000 children are diagnosed with scoliosis and suffer some degree of back pain from the condition which can be congenital, caused by injury, or degeneration or malformation of the vertebrae. Most people living with scoliosis endure many related health issues to include musculature back pain, arthritis, difficulty breathing, sciatica, headaches and insomnia.

While nothing can completely correct or “cure” Scoliosis, there are presently two mainstream treatment options for moderate to severe scoliosis. The first line of treatment is orthopedic bracing – a treatment that does not straighten the spine or fix any curvature already present, but rather stops the progression of the curve from worsening during the growth period following puberty. The brace must be worn 19-23 hours per day for approximately two years during adolescence. The second line of treatment is bone-fusion surgery – an option for more severe curves that will almost straighten the spine, but not without side effects or risk.

Mild Scoliosis, or smaller curves, are about 10 to 20 degrees. The American medical model takes an observational role in these types of curves, not intervening until or unless the curve approaches about 35 degrees.

Living with the pain resulting from scoliosis has an obvious impact both physically and psychologically. Even mild scoliosis can create tightness, pain, and physical limitations. In European countries, the mild curves are referred to massage therapists for pain management and the hope of possibly slowing down the progression of the curve but this has not been mainstream practice in the U.S.

Deep Tissue Massage and Scoliosis

Massage therapy is utilized for many purposes including rehabilitation from sports injury, stress reduction, pain relief, and as an aid to general wellness and relaxation.

Deep Tissue Massage has been used as an alternative treatment for the relief of scoliosis-related symptoms for years. When the body is massaged, tight muscles are stretched thus losing their tension. Circulation improves as blood is allowed to flow to these tighter areas. Deep tissue massage is often reported and observed to improve posture, increase flexibility, and facilitate healing and strength in the muscles due to increased blood flow.

Scientific evidence on the benefits of massage therapy for scoliosis is very limited. Therefore, specific conclusions about the treatment effects cannot be backed with “hard data.” There are a few case studies and the majority of patients report positive outcomes on both physical and psychological/emotional levels after receiving deep tissue massage treatments.

Deep Tissue Massage must be done with expertise and care as to not work overstretched muscles covering the rib cage. A credentialed massage therapist should be referred by a spinal orthopedist or neurosurgeon. While massage therapy will not fix or stop the curvature of the spine, it is a treatment option chosen by many for pain management, increased mobility, and the reduction of many scoliosis-related symptoms.

By Alicia DiFabio, Psy.D.

 Alicia DiFabio, Psy.D. is a freelance writer with a doctorate in psychology. Her personal essays and parenting articles have appeared in various newspapers and magazines. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four girls, one of whom has extensive special needs. She can be found writing about her adventures in parenting at her blog, Lost In Holland

Reviewed by Edan Harari, LMT

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  • Associated and Massage Professionals, 2013
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