Approximately 3% of the American population suffers from scoliosis. An estimated 6% of Americans over the age of 50 have some degree of scoliosis, nearly 75% of whom experience scoliosis-related pain on a daily basis. Sadly, almost 25% of scoliosis sufferers describe their pain as horrible or excruciating.
Living with scoliosis pain can be challenging – even debilitating – and it leaves many adults feeling hopeless about their lives and futures.
While there are medical treatments available for scoliosis, many are outdated and they often fail to offer long-term relief. Fortunately, effective alternatives do exist. Continue reading to learn more.
The Challenges of Living with Scoliosis
Millions of adults suffer from ongoing scoliosis pain – pain that makes it difficult to perform even the simplest of daily tasks. While scoliosis typically manifests during childhood or adolescence, it is a progressive and lifelong condition often responsible for decreased quality of life. Traditional treatment options offer limited and often short-lived success. Scoliosis bracing is not an option for adults because they have already reached skeletal maturity, and spinal surgery comes with a 55% failure rate within 15 to 20 years of operation.
There are two types of scoliosis typically seen in adults: degenerative and idiopathic.
Degenerative scoliosis is characterized by chronic neck, back, and hip pain but often goes undiagnosed because the degree of spinal curvature is low.
Idiopathic scoliosis (i.e. of unknown cause) tends to peak during adolescence when the spine is still maturing, but it continues to progress – albeit more slowly – throughout adulthood, which can lead to chronic, debilitating symptoms:
- Pain in the neck, back, and hips
- Restricted breathing
- Changes in gait or posture
- Reduced range of motion
- Limited physical activity
For many adult scoliosis patients, these physical symptoms eventually contribute to both mental and social symptoms – such as depression and reduced quality of life. As the pain and disability caused by scoliosis worsens, many patients find themselves becoming increasingly isolated (which further decreases quality of life).
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Scoliosis Pain
Adult scoliosis pain can be divided into three categories: joint inflammation, mechanical pain, and nerve pain.
Joint inflammation is common in adults who have not undergone any sort of formal treatment and typically manifests in the form of spondylosis (i.e. arthritis of the spine). It starts with generalized inflammation in the spine and often leads to disc degeneration, progressing curvature, and bone spurs – all of which can cause scoliosis pain that worsens in the morning and during physical activity.
Mechanical pain is caused by abnormal stress on the muscles that surround and support the spine. Scoliosis patients often develop poor posture which, over time, can contribute to mechanical pain in the lower back and numbness or cramping in the legs.
Nerve pain occurs when the nerves in the spine become compressed due to inflammation or degeneration of the spine, which can lead to loss of coordination and numbness or weakness in the lower extremities.
Traditional treatment options for adult scoliosis are limited because the spine typically stops growing around the age of 18. During childhood and adolescence, scoliosis bracing can help slow the progression of spinal curvature, but it does nothing to address the underlying neurological issues. When patients reach adulthood and skeletal maturity without having corrected existing spinal curvature, pain, discomfort, and side effects often follow.
Modern studies have provided mounting evidence in support of an alternative – and ultimately more effective – option for scoliosis pain management: lifestyle changes.
Below are five lifestyle changes to help reduce severe scoliosis pain:
- Stretch in the morning. Many adult scoliosis patients experience morning pain and stiffness – stretching can mitigate pain and discomfort related to scoliosis.
- Keep joints warm in cold weather. Weather-related scoliosis pain can be managed with warm clothing, hot baths, and heat packs.
- Follow a healthy anti-inflammatory diet. Eating a diet rich in fiber, healthy fats, and probiotics will help reduce inflammation in the body and spine, which may reduce scoliosis pain.
- Take nutritional supplements. Vitamin D3 helps improve bone density; magnesium helps improve bone and spinal health; omega-3 fish oils provide natural anti-inflammatory benefits; turmeric helps relieve chronic pain and inflammation (ScoliPAIN Plus is recommended due to its enhanced absorption and time-release technology).
- Invest in a quality mattress. A firm or medium-firm mattress will help support the spine, which may reduce morning pain and stiffness.
Along with the above lifestyle changes, exercise has proven to be even more effective at combatting adult scoliosis pain.
Stretches and Exercises for Scoliosis Pain Management
One of the simplest yet most effective ways to manage adult scoliosis pain is stretching. Stretching helps release tension in the muscles surrounding the spine and may improve blood flow to the joints. That said, there is a right way and a wrong way to stretch – especially when scoliosis is involved.
Because adults with scoliosis are only able to bend in one direction, it may seem like stretching in the opposite direction of the spinal curvature would help relieve pain; in reality, stretching in the direction of the bend is actually more effective at forcing the elongated muscles to pull back, thereby helping balance out posture and relieve discomfort. Stretching regularly will improve both flexibility and range of motion over time which, in turn, will reduce scoliosis pain.
Below are some of the best stretches to relieve adult scoliosis pain:
- Chest Stretch – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms outstretched in front of you. Open your arms to the sides, pulling them back until you feel your shoulder blades come together and your chest stretch. Hold for a few seconds, then release and repeat.
- Back Stretch - Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms outstretched in front of you. Lace your fingers together, then push them away from your body – palms facing out – until you feel a stretch in your back. Hold for a few seconds, then release and repeat.
- Lower Back Stretch – Lie flat on your stomach with your legs and arms outstretched. Raise your right arm and left leg a few inches off the ground and hold for 10 seconds. Release and repeat with the opposite side.
- Hip Stretch – Lie flat on your back with your legs fully extended. Slowly bend your left knee and pull it in toward your chest with both hands, keeping your toe pointed up. Stretch as far as you can, hold for a few seconds, release, and repeat on the other side.
- Overhead Stretch – Sit flat on the floor with your legs crossed and your back flat against a wall. Grasp both ends of a small rolled towel with both hands, holding it in front of you with your arms fully stretched. Raise the towel over your head, stretching as high as you can, then release and repeat.
In addition to stretching, certain yoga poses have been shown to relieve scoliosis pain. Examples include mountain pose, tree pose, and cat pose. Poses that involve bending backward, twisting the torso, or bending forward should be avoided.
Core-strengthening exercises may improve posture, while balance exercises target and strengthen the muscles surrounding and stabilizing the spine.
Below are some exercises to build strength and reduce scoliosis pain:
- Finger Climb – Stand with your feet together in front of a wall and place your hands flat against the wall at chest height. Engage your core, then walk your fingers up the wall, extending your arms as you move your hands over your head. Keep moving up until you are on your tiptoes, then slowly walk back down.
- Crunches – Rest your back on a stability ball and put your feet flat on the floor. Clasp your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows wide, then engage your core muscles to sit up and then lie back. Repeat as desired.
- Back Extensions – Brace your lower body (stomach and quads) against a stability ball with your heels against the wall. Clasp your hands behind your head and slowly lower your torso into the ball, then lift back up. Repeat as desired.
- Balance Squats – Stand on a BOSU Balance Trainer with your feet hip-width apart and your arms extended in front of you for balance. Thrust your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Squeeze your glutes and push back up to the starting position. Repeat as desired.
- Superman – Lie flat on your stomach with your arms extended over your head, palms against the floor. Lift both of your feet and your arms off the ground a few inches and hold for 3 seconds, then release, rest for a second, and repeat.
Lastly, in addition to lifestyle changes, stretches, and exercises, there is the ScoliSMART™ Activity Suit.
What is the ScoliSMART™ Activity Suit?
The ScoliSMART™ Activity Suit is a non-invasive alternative to bracing that works with the body's natural movements to create new muscle memory while actively reducing and stabilizing adult scoliosis. It mimics the effect of resistance training on the spine; every step taken activates the muscles surrounding the spine to help reprogram the firing and coordination of those muscles (thereby improving posture and stability).
In a study published in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine:
- 79% of adult patients achieved a curve correction of 6˚ or greater
- Adult patients achieved a 54% reduction in pain
- Adult patients wearing a suit achieved an average scoliosis correction of 10 degrees
A Fresh Start
Reduced scoliosis pain is just two steps away:
- Begin implementing the lifestyle changes, stretches, and exercises outlined in this article.
- Visit a clinic in one of 15 nearby states for a ScoliSMART™ Activity Suit fitting.