Straight Talk on Scoliosis

By John Upledger , DO, OMM

Straight Talk on Scoliosis

By John Upledger , DO, OMM

Editor's Note: Dr. John Upledger has asked guest author Ken Piercy to write this month's column.

Scoliosis is an abnormal lateral curvature of the vertebral column, most often found in younger girls and women. It's generally considered either "fixed," as a result of muscle or bone deformity, or "mobile," usually as a result of unequal muscle contractions.

It's important to note that mobile scoliosis can lead to fixed scoliosis, since unequal muscle contractions can cause alterations of the internal architecture over time, especially in weight-bearing structures. This is known as Wolff's Law. As a muscle pulls on a bone, it can draw the bone in the direction of the strain. The longer this process continues, the more pronounced it becomes. Fixed scoliosis can be the result, which is why it's critical to catch this condition early.

Understanding the Underlying Architecture

As human beings, we essentially are upright bipeds. That's who we are and what we do. We stand up and walk. Hardly a news flash, yet understanding the architecture is important to resolving scoliosis. We each have two legs, hips, a sacrum and a vertebral column tethered together. Structurally speaking, look at the hips and sacrum as the top of an arch and the legs as the support; with the vertebral column or spine centered on top of the arch like a tower. We have a complex structure we generally take for granted.

Numerous muscles and ligaments attach the hips and sacrum to the vertebral column. In tower terminology, these would be "guy wires." They pull and hold the tower upright. If the base of the tower (sacrum) shifts or if some of the muscles get too tight, the tower begins to lean. As we get off-center, the wires attached further up the tower pull us back toward the center. The body is a self-correcting mechanism. It wants to be an upright biped, but now we have a curvature of the spine.

The bodies of young women go through significant changes preparing them for the future endeavors of the female anatomy. As teenagers, they're also having the time of their lives in gymnastics, dancing, cheerleading, volleyball and basketball, playing around with all kinds of activities that can be stressful to the architectural structure.

Think about dropping an arch on one support with the center tower balanced up one side, much like jumping up to spike a volleyball and landing on one foot. A structural engineer would say, "Oh no, you can't do that. If you drop an arch on one side, the tower will lose its structural integrity and collapse." But the volleyball coach would say, "Great job!" Add to this the fact that the hips are expanding and the attached ligaments (wires) are stretching and this might be a good time for structural concern.

Helping Amelia Avoid Surgery

A 13-year-old girl, "Amelia," came to my office after being diagnosed with scoliosis by her pediatrician. He indicated she might need surgery and would likely be wearing a back brace 23 hours a day. The doctors said she had a spinal distraction 20 degrees to the right and 10 degrees to the left. They told her she didn't need surgery just yet, but they wanted to keep an eye on her to see if the condition worsened. At 30 degrees, she'd be a candidate for surgery. They also referred her to a neurologist for her headaches and dizziness.

As a soft-tissue practitioner, I don't have an X-ray machine and I rarely carry a protractor. But I could see her lower thoracic spine was pulled laterally about 1.5 inches, and her cervical spine went about .75 inches the other way. For headaches and balance issues, it should be noted that the cervical spine connects directly to the cranial base, including the temporal bones that house the inner ear, semi-circular canals and vestibular system. Tension from the muscles attaching the base of the skull to the neck can impede balance and produce headaches.

After I performed a CranioSacral Therapy 10-step protocol, Amelia was visibly more relaxed. She reported her headache was gone. You also could see the lateral distortion in her spine was now less than half an inch. As the tower/spine begins to straighten and the muscles/wires release the tension needed to hold the body upright, the cranial vault functions improve, diminishing headaches and enhancing balance.

Amelia also was pleased to notice she could see the curve of her waist on her right side, something she could only see on her left before that session. The right side of her torso, which had been a straight vertical line, now had more of a tapered shape.

After a second session, Amelia took two weeks off to go on vacation and a week-long dance camp where she studied classical ballet. Upon her return, at the beginning of her third session, she reported she had a headache. I also could see a slightly increased lateral distortion of her vertebral column. At the end of that session, Amelia was headache-free once again and the lateral distortion of her spine was visibly diminished. Since then, her mom reports Amelia's self-esteem has soared. I think that's significant in a 13-year-old girl.

A few more sessions should alleviate Amelia's condition and a watchful eye will be far more productive than surgery. Before they brought her to see me, Amelia's family paid $23,630 to conventional medical doctors to treat her scoliosis and headaches. The cost of her CranioSacral Therapy: $300. A mother's relief: Priceless.