Schroth-based exercises customized for each patient help return the curved spine to a more natural position.
Scoliosis affects about 7 million people in the U.S. People with scoliosis have an abnormal curve in their spine, which can vary in severity. For those who need treatment, options range from physical therapy, such as the Schroth method, to bracing and spine surgery.
The Schroth method for nonsurgical scoliosis treatment
The Schroth method is a nonsurgical option for scoliosis treatment. It uses scoliosis-specific exercises customized for each patient to return the curved spine to a more natural position.
“The exercise program is specifically designed for individuals based on the curve pattern of their spine,” said Ron E. Lasley, DPT, physical therapist with Norton Healthcare. “The goal of Schroth treatment is to achieve muscular symmetry, improve strength and breathing, and to increase the patient’s awareness of his or her posture.”
During treatment, according to Ron, patients meet one-on-one with a therapist once a week and practice a 20- to 30-minute daily exercise program at home for about six months. Exercises may involve sitting, standing, and lying on the back, stomach or side. During sessions with a therapist, patients may use wall bars, poles or exercise balls to assist with positioning their arms and legs.
In order to provide the Schroth method to patients, physical therapists must obtain Level 1 and Level 2 certifications in scoliosis therapy from the Barcelona Scoliosis Physical Therapy School in Barcelona, Spain. According to Ron, Norton Healthcare employs two of just a handful of physical therapists in Kentucky who are able to provide Schroth treatment.
The history of the Schroth method
The scoliosis-specific exercises used in the method bear the name of their German pioneer, Katharina Schroth. She created the exercises to treat her own spinal deformities, then used the exercises for treatment in her clinic in Germany beginning in the 1920s.
Although the Schroth method has been standard scoliosis treatment in Europe for decades, according to Ron, the technique did not gain popularity in the United States until about 2011. Historically, the standard nonsurgical treatment for most scoliosis cases was bracing and observation.
In 2014, Steven D. Glassman, M.D., medical director for Norton Leatherman Spine, was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the International Society on Scoliosis Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Treatment (SOSORT) in Wiesbaden, Germany. There he attended a session on the Schroth method.
“I saw this program as an important addition to Norton Leatherman Spine’s capabilities,” said Dr. Glassman, “and an important component of the spectrum of care we deliver to patients with scoliosis. I recruited Ron to get the program started, and he has built an effective, comprehensive program.”
Patient outcomes with the Schroth method
The Schroth method can be used to treat adults and children with idiopathic or neurological scoliosis. Idiopathic scoliosis is scoliosis that does not have a known cause; it is the most common form. Neurological scoliosis is scoliosis that is caused by a neurological or muscular condition. According to Ron, because of the complexity of some of the exercises and techniques, the Schroth method is not recommended for some scoliosis patients.
There are several indicators of a successful outcome from Schroth treatment:
- Stabilization of the spinal curve
- Visible improvements in the degree of the spinal curve
- Improved posture and postural awareness
- Decreased pain
- Improved core strength
- Alignment of the pelvis
- Better self-management and understanding of the spine and scoliosis
“One benefit of the Schroth method is education and giving patients control over their treatment,” Ron said. “We’re teaching patients techniques for improving their condition in the movements they make during everyday tasks like sitting, sleeping and carrying a backpack correctly.”
According to Ron, early observation and intervention is key to treating scoliosis. He suggests taking a proactive approach to care and asking your primary care provider to screen your child, or yourself, for scoliosis.