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Before starting my natural health journey, I never really understood how much our choices affected us. These diet and lifestyle choices have far-reaching effects. Over the years I’ve seen firsthand how nutrition, toxins, and trauma impact health. Things I once attributed to genetics, I now realize have many causes. Believe it or not, nutritional and environmental factors can also contribute to scoliosis.
What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is the unnatural curvature of the spine. The natural “S” curve visible when viewed from the side is there to absorb shock during movement. But from the front or back, the spine should look fairly straight. If the spine swerves to the side you might have scoliosis.
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) defines scoliosis for us. Scoliosis is diagnosed when the back-to-front imaging shows a curve of the spine that’s at least 10 degrees. Doctors consider it significant if the spinal curvature is off by at least 25 to 30 degrees. Severe scoliosis is when it exceeds 45 or 50 degrees.
Doctors classify scoliosis based on its origin or cause. Idiopathic scoliosis (“we don’t know”) is the most common type of scoliosis, making up 80% of cases. This primarily happens in teens, so it’s generally called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. It often first shows up during growth spurts (between ages 10 and 15) and is diagnosed at regular checkups.
Congenital scoliosis happens before a baby is born. Malformations in just one or two vertebrae can change the curvature of the spine and cause other deformities. Doctors usually diagnose this type of scoliosis earlier because it’s present at birth.
Neuromuscular scoliosis comes from spinal cord trauma or neurological or muscular conditions. These include things like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, and Marfan’s syndrome. Neuromuscular scoliosis tends to worsen over time and may eventually need surgery.
Degeneration from arthritis or osteoporosis can lead to scoliosis in older adults. The spinal discs start to break down, causing the spine to lose its normal shape. Degeneration is most common in the lumbar spine (lower back) and in those 65 and older.
Signs and Symptoms of Scoliosis
Scoliosis isn’t always immediately noticeable since there’s a wide range of severity. But if someone has any of these signs of scoliosis, it’s worth getting it checked out:
- Uneven shoulders
- Shoulder blade(s) stick out
- The head is not centered over the pelvis
- Someone has one or both hips hitched up
- Uneven leg length
- The rib cage is uneven
- The waist isn’t level
- Lower back pain
- The skin over the spine has abnormalities like dimples, hairs, or discoloration
- The whole body leans to one side
How is Scoliosis Diagnosed?
Mild scoliosis isn’t always obvious. Teens are often diagnosed at a regular checkup or physical exam. If scoliosis is suspected, the medical professional will likely recommend further testing.
Adult scoliosis is typically diagnosed through either a medical doctor or a chiropractor. Again, a physical examination is the initial way a doctor would check for scoliosis. More severe cases show up in a physical exam, but others are more subtle and need diagnostic imaging.
Imaging tests like X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans can confirm the diagnosis. Once the doctor determines the severity, they can suggest treatment options.
Mainstream Treatment Options
Allopathic medicine gives patients a few options for treating spinal deformities or curvatures. The type of treatment depends on the severity of the spinal curve. Mild scoliosis may respond well to exercises or bracing. However, severe cases may need surgical treatment.
Braces can help prevent scoliosis from getting worse, but they only work in pediatric patients who are still growing. While they must be properly fitted and worn 16 to 23 hours every day, they’re about 80% effective. An orthopedic specialist will determine which type of brace is best and how long the child will need to wear the back brace during the day and at night.
Surgery is usually only recommended if the curve is greater than 40 degrees and it seems to be getting worse. It may involve metal rods attached to the spine to keep it straight while the surgeon fuses the spine. Spinal fusion requires adding a bone graft to the curved area, fusing two or more vertebrae. It can be done in children and adults.
There are a few more surgical options, which are more or less invasive. The important thing to know is while many people do well after the surgery, it may or may not work for everyone. Likely, that’s due to not addressing what caused scoliosis in the first place.
Potential Causes of Scoliosis
Let’s go back to the 80% of cases. What could have led to scoliosis for the vast majority of them? A family history may set you up for a higher risk, but there’s not just one cause. Here are a few more contributors to consider:
Birth Trauma and Scoliosis
One of the first contributors to scoliosis may be birth trauma. A Caesarian section (C-section) is one example. After all, being removed directly from the womb through surgery isn’t natural. It doesn’t allow the head and spine to stay in alignment as going through the birth canal does. C-sections may lead to a misaligned spine as a baby.
Another birth trauma is the use of forceps or vacuum extractors to pull the baby through the birth canal. Extreme force can cause the upper cervical spine to go out of alignment. Eventually, that may lead to misalignments throughout the spine as it compensates over time.
Tongue Tie and Scoliosis
Tongue ties are another potential contributor to scoliosis. When the tongue is tied, it doesn’t rest against the upper palate in the mouth. Instead, it sits low in the mouth. As a result, it doesn’t do its job of widening and shaping the palate to allow all the teeth to fit, including the wisdom teeth.
The narrowed palate leads to tooth crowding and a misaligned bite. The tongue is also considered the rudder of the spine. If it can’t maintain its proper resting position at the roof of the mouth, there may be downstream effects. One is poor facial development, and another is misalignments in the spine.
A 2011 review study found overbites, crossbites, and other dental issues may be linked to scoliosis rates. The same study also found a link between plagiocephaly (flat heads) with scoliosis. Once a rare condition, plagiocephaly rates in babies skyrocketed after the “back to sleep” campaign.
Vaccines and Scoliosis
Vaccines are a controversial suspect in the mystery of scoliosis. They may contain viruses, metals, and other toxins that affect the nervous system. The nervous system controls the muscles which support the spine.
According to the Clear Institute, mercury, in particular, has a negative effect on muscles and ligaments. It ultimately weakens them, increasing rates of scoliosis. (More on heavy metals and scoliosis below). Some vaccines, like flu shots, have thimerosal, a type of mercury. Since 1999 though, thimerosal has been reduced or eliminated from most vaccines. If you’re considering a vaccine, be sure to check the ingredients.
Meningococcal vaccine manufacturers list scoliosis as one of many adverse events reported following vaccination in prelicensing studies.
Sugar and Scoliosis
Many of us eat way too much sugar. It’s hidden in almost all packaged and processed foods. Embarrassingly, these make up the bulk of the Standard American Diet. It’s a convenience-focused diet appropriately called by its acronym, SAD.
According to the World Health Organization, sugar should account for no more than 10% of total daily calories. That’s about 6-12 teaspoons of added sugar per day. To put that in context, one soda has 8 teaspoons! Currently, Americans consume 18 teaspoons of sugar per day or about 18% of their daily calories! Processed sugar in any amount isn’t good for us.
There’s already evidence linking sugar to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and many other health problems. But what does sugar have to do with scoliosis?
Sugar depletes minerals from your body, including the bones. Each time you eat sugar, your body uses magnesium to process it. Magnesium is crucial to musculoskeletal health. So, depleting it by eating sugar can make a difference in the development of scoliosis.
Sugar also causes inflammation throughout the body, which can contribute to scoliosis. In an animal study, central nervous system inflammation was associated with scoliosis. Sugar also feeds infections.
Infections and Scoliosis
Infections are another thing to consider. Anything that can affect the brain or spinal nerves could cause the spine to go out of alignment. Viral and parasitic infections both have associations with scoliosis.
Viruses often attack the nerves. Poliomyelitis, usually shortened to “polio,” is a health condition caused by the poliovirus. Paralytic scoliosis is a common effect of this infection, occurring in just over 60% of polio patients studied.
A parasitic infection caused an alpaca to have scoliosis in the neck. It had the same effect on a horse. This was a particular parasite — a brain worm that also infects deer, moose, elk, and other animals. The parasite travels to the spinal cord, causing inflammation and destroying the tissue.
In 2018, Doctors discovered a parasite infection in a woman’s spine. These tapeworms are estimated to affect over 1 million people a year. Mostly in lower income countries. Could there possibly be a link between parasites and scoliosis in humans in some cases?
Metal Toxicity and Scoliosis
While there isn’t a body of research yet, metal toxicity is also worth exploring. Mercury, for example, is selectively absorbed by joints, bones, and connective tissue. In a study of fish, metal toxicity was associated with deformed spines. Those with deformities had higher metal concentrations than healthy controls. Other similar studies showed the same effects on spines.
Patients with spinal osteoarthritis had lower magnesium and higher cadmium in their blood compared to healthy people. They also had imbalances in the ratios of calcium and magnesium versus lead and cadmium. In other words, they had higher levels of toxic elements and lower levels of beneficial elements.
Poor Posture From Smartphone Usage
Believe it or not, there’s an actual study on this, published in 2016. Researchers found that using smartphones for long periods caused poor posture. Slouching, rounded shoulders, and forward head posture were especially to blame. Poor posture inflamed and injured the ligaments, neck, and lower back. Ultimately, it set the stage for functional scoliosis.
Obviously, this type of posture isn’t unique to using a smartphone. It can also happen from frequent iPad or laptop use or even poor posture when reading a book or playing a musical instrument.
Inflammation and Scoliosis
When physical injury or pathogens harm the body it leads to inflammation. Even though there’s plenty of evidence linking toxicities and deficiencies to scoliosis, many doctors ignore it. They’re reluctant to admit diet and lifestyle factors have anything to do with the condition.
While there is a genetic component, an unhealthy lifestyle can certainly contribute to scoliosis.
How to Address Scoliosis the Natural Way
The good news is that there are natural ways to greatly improve scoliosis – even to the point it’s hardly noticeable. Some potential ways to address scoliosis without surgery include:
Chiropractic – Especially Chiropractic Biophysics
Regular chiropractic visits have been shown to help adults with scoliosis over a six-month period. The study involved 28 adult scoliosis patients at two chiropractic clinics. Two years later the results were still noticeable.
Chiropractic Biophysics (CBP) is particularly effective for scoliosis. Drs. Donald and Deed Harrison developed CBP in the 1980s. It uses regular adjustments, postural mirror image exercises, and traction to address spinal misalignments and restore correct posture.
The Schroth Method
Even Johns Hopkins calls The Schroth Method “a nonsurgical option for scoliosis treatment” and uses it in their medical center. “Schroth” was developed by German-born Katharina Schroth in the early 1900s, as a way to correct her own scoliosis. It later became the basis of a clinic for treating others with scoliosis.
The Schroth Method uses posture awareness, breathing exercises, and muscular support to realign the spine. A Schroth-trained physical therapist will first look at X-rays. Then they’ll design an appropriate program based on the curvatures. They then coach the patient on how to do the exercises, which can be done at home.
SEAS is an acronym for “Scientific Exercises Approach to Scoliosis.” This method of treating scoliosis is based on the Lyon approach from France. Scientists developed it in Italy in the early 1960s. The exercises train neuromotor functions. It allows you to naturally self-correct posture by reflex during regular daily activities.
SEAS can either be done as an outpatient – coming in 2 to 3 times a week for 45-minute appointments or at home through 20-minute daily exercises. Research shows it’s effective for reducing scoliosis and helping avoid bracing and surgery if practiced as recommended.
Yoga for Scoliosis
Regular yoga practice may also help. A 2014 study from Columbia University found a particular yoga pose could improve scoliosis in as little as 3 months. They just had to hold it for 90 seconds at least 3 days a week. What is that pose? The side plank.
The study involved 25 scoliosis patients between the ages of 14 and 85. They started by holding the pose for 10 to 20 seconds a day on the side their spine curved toward. Then they worked up to holding it as long as possible once a day. On average, they held the pose a minute and a half a day for six days a week for over six months.
The results? Side planks improved spine curvature by about 32% for all patients. Yoga classes have even popped up specifically for scoliosis.
The Bottom Line on Scoliosis
If you suspect scoliosis, you’ll likely want to see your chiropractor or practitioner and get diagnosed. If you’re committing to improving it naturally, first take a look at your diet. Processed sugar and refined carbs don’t do us any favors. And adding in mineral rich whole foods is also a must.
From there, you can review the various types of bodywork mentioned above. Everyone is different and has their own timelines and goals.
Do you have scoliosis? What do you think contributed to it for you? Have you found anything that helps? Share with us below!