Scoliosis is a nasty condition where the spine develops an abnormal level of curvature. Most people who people who have the condition will show only slight curvature and may not even know they are suffering, dismissing their back pains as no more than an annoying ache. However, for serious curvatures, the condition is not only visible in one’s posture but also has several complications which can progress with age. Scoliosis treatment ranges from a ‘do nothing, wait and see’ approach to full spinal surgery, complete with bracing to correct the problem. However, research has shown that there are home remedies for scoliosis which will allow you to manage your scoliosis treatment at home, and, irrespective of whether the condition is severe or mild, our home remedies for scoliosis will help alleviate the symptoms and should be used in conjunction with your scoliosis treatment plan. They do not offer a scoliosis cure, but they do help you lead a more, if not totally normal life.
What is scoliosis
Scoliosis is a musculoskeletal disorder that involves a sideways curvature (typically S- or C- shaped) of the spine or backbone (1). There is often no specific cause for this condition and it usually occurs when children are growing rapidly as they reach puberty (2).
Scoliosis is more common in girls than boys, and occasionally runs in families. Its symptoms, which are often difficult to observe, include the tendency to lean towards a particular side and the possession of uneven shoulders, waist and hips.
Researchers are still studying how genetics, growth patterns and changes in the spine, nerves and muscles contribute to idiopathic scoliosis, as well as the efficacy of different treatment plans in preventing the curvature from increasing and in assisting the straightening of the spine.
Doctors will classify the curvature as either nonstructural (when the spine is normal and structure and the curve is only temporary) or structural (when the spine has a fixed curve as a result of an injury, disease, infection or birth defect) (3).
While individuals with milder forms of scoliosis may only need to undertake periodic exams with their doctor every now and then, individuals with more severe curves (which can become progressively worse) may require treatment.
After diagnosing an individual with scoliosis via an x ray of the spine, a physical examination and a review of the patient’s medical history, doctors will prescribe a treatment plan based on the individual’s age, the type of scoliosis, the degree, location and pattern of the curve, and how much more physical growth he or she is projected to undergo (4). The doctor will suggest the best treatment for each patient based on the patient’s age, how much more he or she is likely to grow, the degree and pattern of the curve, and the type of scoliosis.
When the curve is mild (i.e. the Cobb angle of the spine is less than 25 degrees) and the patient is still growing, doctors will usually opt to make further observations over the following months. On the other hand, patients with moderate spinal curvature may be encouraged to wear a brace to stop the curve from becoming worse over time. Finally, patients with severe curves (i.e. greater than 40 to 50 degrees) that are getting worse will typically be advised to undergo surgery to correct it (5). This surgery may involve fusing two or more bones in the spine together, or the insertion of a metal rod or implants to help the spine remain straight after surgery.
For those who are interested in considering a non-surgical treatment plan to alleviate their condition, here are a few alternative treatment procedures that can alleviate some of the complications associated with scoliosis:
Home remedies for scoliosis
- Physiotherapy Scoliosis Specific Exercises (PSSE)
Home remedies for scoliosis start with specialized exercises. There are many customised scoliosis exercises designed to alleviate the symptoms of the condition. Many nations have different approaches and there have been studies examining the efficacy of each approach. (6). While the specifications of each treatment approach varied, they all aimed to treat scoliosis by realigning the spine, rib cage, shoulders and pelvis to ‘normal’ anatomical postures.
Research has indicated that Physiotherapy Scoliosis Specific Exercises (PSSE) can help to temporarily stabilize progressive scoliosis curves. (7).
For incidents of non-progressive scoliosis, the regular practice of PSSE can result in a temporary and significant reduction of the Cobb angle. Besides a reduction in the Cobb angle, PSSE can also improve back asymmetry, and alleviate secondary muscle imbalances and scoliosis-associated pain. Individuals afflicted with severe cases of thoracic scoliosis can also experience an improvement in breathing function.
Individuals afflicted with severe cases of thoracic scoliosis can also experience an improvement in breathing function. The exercises help to change the soft tissue that affect the spine, and are believed to alleviate scoliosis by changing the control of spinal movement.
While more research is needed to ascertain the extent of their efficacy, there are no known risks or side effects of practicing PSSEs (8).
Although many PSSEs can be done at home on your own as part of your everyday routine, it is recommended that patients work with a team that includes at least a physical therapist, and an orthopaedic doctor to create a personalized exercise routine that addresses the specific nature of the patient’s spine condition. The exercises should be tailored to correct a patient’s pelvis position and spine, as well as to improve posture and strengthen any weak muscles.
- Core Strengthening Exercises
You can also benefit from general core-strengthening exercises. While they will not reduce the size of the spine curve, they can help prevent the curve from worsening. A stronger core helps to support your spine and help it maintain a neutral position. It also helps your abdominal and lower back muscles to balance and stabilize your posture more effectively.
A 2017 study of South Korean students with idiopathic scoliosis who participated in a 12-week core stabilization exercise demonstrated a signature decrease in the lumbar Cobb angle, as well as a significant increase in lumbar flexor and extensor muscles strength (there was no significant difference in their thoracic Cobb angle, however) (10).
- A Healthy Diet
Although scoliosis is not caused by malnutrition or a poor diet, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet can help alleviate some of its symptoms (12). Maintaining a normal body weight is also very important for individuals with the condition. Obesity and overweightedness can aggravate back pain and discomfort as the discs in the spine absorb the shock from the additional weight.
An active lifestyle, a normal body weight and a diet that contains all the typical daily nutritional requirements will help to alleviate the discomfort and pain associated with the condition.
- A healthy gut
A healthy gut does not seem a likely home remedy for scoliosis. However, imbalanced gut bacteria have been shown to have an effect on many physiological processes in the body from cognitive functions to immune health. Inflammatory diseases like irritable bowel syndrome have also been shown to be linked with the balance of our gut bacteria. This is where the link to scoliosis comes from. Avoiding inflammation at pressure points in the spine is critical for alleviating the pain associated with scoliosis. Reducing auto-immune responses of the body, which cause inflammation across the whole body, often starts in the gut.
- Anti-inflammatory supplements
In addition to healthy diet complete with prebiotics/probiotics, you should also consider foods that are known for their anti-inflammatory properties as well as considering supplements.
The spice turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Also, the supplement methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a widely used supplement which aids in lowering chronic back pain and inflammation of the joints and can help to treat the symptoms of scoliosis.
Likewise, there are many essential oils that can be used to manage inflammation from scoliosis that can be applied topically to relieve the pain. In particular, consider taking fish oil as a supplement which has long been known for its benefits for joints and bones.
- Preserving Bone Health
Older patients may need to pay particular attention to their bone health, however, since osteoporosis can cause the progression of scoliosis (13). More attention towards one’s calcium intake is needed in older age, since the body becomes less efficient at absorbing calcium and other nutrients. Postmenopausal women, older men, pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding typically have greater calcium needs.
Vitamin D, sunshine and weight-bearing activities that prevent the loss of bone density may be required to avoid any bony abnormalities that will aggravate the symptoms of scoliosis.
As such, a diet rich in protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, C and K, zinc, manganese and copper is encouraged (calcium and vitamin D are the nutrients that are most commonly deficient from individuals living in developed countries) (14).
While protein intake can increase the urinary excretion of calcium, consuming healthy amounts of protein is not detrimental to bone health so long as a 20:1 (mg calcium/g) calcium-to-protein ratio is achieved (15).
Vegetables and fruits can also help to reverse the loss of calcium via urine; caffeine intake should be reduced since it decreases calcium absorption from the gut.
Good food sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products (e.g. milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream); dark green and leafy vegetables (e.g. broccoli, collard greens, bok choy, and spinach); sardines and salmon with bones; tofu, almonds, and foods fortified with calcium (e.g. orange juice, cereals, and breads) (16).
If you are unable to obtain your daily calcium requirements from your food intake, a calcium supplement may be necessary.
- Chiropractic Rehabilitation
While research on the long-term efficacy of exercise-based therapies in treating scoliosis is generally lacking, a 2011 retrospective review of 28 patients who were prescribed the same chiropractic rehabilitation program and examined throughout a 24-month long-term follow-up found that 22 patients experienced Cobb angle reductions (17). All curvatures types registered improvements in pain scores and disability ratings.
- Work regularly on the Physiotherapy Scoliosis Specific Exercise program you have developed with your physical therapist
- Maintain a healthy diet with ample amounts of calcium, fruits and vegetables
- Get enough exposure to sunlight for vitamin D
- Exercise regularly to prevent the loss of bone density and to maintain a healthy weight
- Be conscious of your posture at all times
- Avoid caffeine, since it can reduce calcium absorption
- Avoid long periods of inactivity
- Cigarettes and alcohol, which compromises bone health
- Avoid medications that contribute to bone loss, e.g. glucocorticoids, anti-seizure drugs (e.g. phenytoin and barbiturates), gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) drugs, antacids, and excessive thyroid hormones if possible