In Episode 22, Ashley Brewer meets with Dr. Andrew Strauss to answer the question what are the best exercise programs for scoliosis? Whether you are looking for scoliosis-specific exercises that will help stabilize your spine or looking for physical activity that you can do if you're living with scoliosis, this episode will answer your questions.
Throughout the show Dr. Andrew and Ashley discuss:
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Hello, and thank you for joining me for Episode 22, "What Are the Best Exercise Programs for Scoliosis?" I'm Ashley Brewer, your host, and today I'll be joined by 37 year scoliosis treatment veteran, Dr. Andrew Strauss, who practices in New York. Dr. Andrew is the director of Hudson Valley Scoliosis and Correction Center, the Vice Chairman of the CLEAR Scoliosis Institute Board of Directors, and the author of two books on scoliosis, "Your Child has Scoliosis", and "The Truth About Adult Scoliosis". Dr. Andrew holds a Master's Degree in acupuncture, as well as advanced training in Pettibon, CBP, clinical nutrition, Chinese herbal medicine, manipulation under anesthesia, and electro diagnosis. The last time I checked, he has treated patients from 29 states, 4 Canadian provinces, and 38 other foreign countries. Dr. Strauss is married with three children and lives in northern New Jersey. I hope you enjoy our conversation where we answer the question, "What are the best exercise programs for scoliosis?" Episode 22, let's go!
You're listening to Life Beyond the Curve, a podcast brought to you by CLEAR Scoliosis Institute. Each week, we interview experts in the industry, answer your pressing questions, and empower you to take control of your scoliosis diagnosis, and live life to its fullest. Enjoy the show.
Hello, Dr. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us again today. It's always great to see you.
Thanks very much, Ashley. We've got a great topic today.
Yes, we do. So today we are talking about exercise and scoliosis. And specifically, I want to answer the question, what are the best exercise programs for scoliosis. But before we can jump into that, I feel like we need to first differentiate between exercise as in, like, working out, being physically active, trying to stay in shape, and exercise designed specifically for scoliosis to help with scoliosis. Can you share a little bit about the difference between those two and we'll get to both of them during this show, though?
Yup. Yup. I think that's a really great place to start. Firstly, let me tell you that all of the research on scoliosis consistently says that it is very important for the person to stay fit. This is an essential thing and it's one of those places where all the researchers are in agreement. So basic fitness is really, really important. For adults with scoliosis, for children with scoliosis, regardless of who it is, they gotta be fit. Now the joke is what's the best exercise for the person to do? Well, the one that they'll actually do. So, maybe riding a horse, maybe it's gym and going, you know, doing weights, maybe it's, uh, playing tennis. It doesn't really matter, interestingly. Even heavy one-sided sports are okay, and let me give you an example. You look at a woman like Serena, who's right-handed and she's playing tennis, maybe six hours a day. Does she have a huge right side and a small withered up left side? No, because she knows that when she goes to the gym, she must train her left side or it'll hold her right side back. The body will not allow one side to be more than about 10% dominant. So even heavy one-sided sports are still fine. So you do, really, there's very little restriction.
Yeah. And I think that's important thing that you point out that it is important for people with scoliosis to stay physically fit and physically active. Now there's also the other end of the spectrum, which is scoliosis-specific exercise programs. So exercise programs either designed to help scoliosis, reduce scoliosis, slow scoliosis progression, help with pain management. There are so many different programs out there. Can you talk to me about some of these scoliosis-specific exercise programs?
Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about the general concept first. So scoliosis-specific exercises have to be custom designed. The patient has to be examined, X-rays have to be evaluated. We have to discuss what the goals are for the patient. And then a customized program is going to be developed. And that customized program is going to be consisting of lots of different components. So scoliosis exercise, scoliosis-specific exercise is kind of a catch all phrase, that includes, for example, active self-correction. It includes isometrics. It might include yoga for scoliosis. It might include, uh, uh, um, stretching protocols and so forth. So there's lots and lots of different things that, that, uh, could be under the name or the heading scoliosis-specific exercises. But the key thought is that they're custom designed for each person because, well, each person is in an individual. There's curve size, there's curve patterns, there's the age of the person, there's even the capacity of the person has to come into it. Some patients, their balance is very poor and they can't be given balancing-type exercises, or they have to be modified to suit them. Some people, they can't deal with something that's too complicated. They have to have something that's simpler that they are able to actually do. So bottom line, the program has to be doable for the person, and it has to be appropriately fit to that person's spine.
Well, and I think that's what part of what I love about CLEAR doctors, is you not only take the patient's scoliosis into consideration, but you take their life and their lifestyle into consideration as well. You just listed off some times where something may not work for somebody, or may work for somebody. And I think that's very important. So this next question, I promise is not a trick question. I'm not looking for a specific answer here, but of all of the different exercise-based scoliosis specific programs that are out there, what are some of the programs that you think are the most effective?
Okay, that's a good trick question. I'm not gonna fall for it, because like I, like I just said, we have to gear the program for the patient. So there really isn't a most effective, it depends upon the person. For example, we know that there are seven different basic schools of scoliosis exercises out there and they, they many of them come from Europe. Some of them come from the United States. Um, these different schools have a lot of things in common. And some of the things that are in common are, for example, uh, active self-correction, teaching the person to put themselves into a corrected posture when they're in their normal daily activities of sitting and standing. Then there's isometric exercises, which are designed to derotate the spine, to take the twist out of the curve. Then there's exercises that are designed to stabilize and strengthen the core. Then there's specific stretching protocols, which are designed to lengthen the spinal cord and to get mobility into these restricted areas. So you can see it's made up of many different components and there are many different schools that have advocated for these things. Some of them were famous, like for example, the Schroth method is a very famous one. The SEAS, which is an acronym, Scientific Exercise Applied to Scoliosis. And of course CLEAR, which is a chiropractic exercise based protocol for nonsurgically treating scoliosis.
And what I love that CLEAR has done is they've taken a lot of the different concepts or ideas used in some of these different approaches and kind of combined them into something that CLEAR doctors know works best, again, for that specific unique patient that is in front of them. And so something that you and I have talked about before is the custom prescribed home exercise program that is part of the overarching CLEAR approach, or the care that a patient would receive if they go to a CLEAR Scoliosis Center. Can you talk to me specifically about that part of the program? So the home exercises that a patient does in the comfort of their own home on their own time?
Yeah, absolutely. So this is really the, the, uh, the backbone, if you want to call it, the spine of the CLEAR approach is these exercises that are, that are customized and given to the patients. And, uh, um, again like each, each patient, there there's a toolbox of maybe 50 different exercises. And the typical patient is going to receive maybe 12 to 15 different exercises out of that toolbox, depending upon their particular needs. And the exercises are prescribed based off of the postural exam, off the physical exam, off the x-ray exam. And then, like I said earlier, the capacity of the patient comes into it. Um, uh, the, the, um, um, willingness of the patient to do certain things, how much time they have to spend on it. All of these things are, are used to craft the home exercise program.
So, we kind of talked about scoliosis-specific exercise, but I know, and we talked a little bit about physical activity at the beginning of this, too. I know some people may have searched for this because they want to know exactly what exercise, meaning physical activity, they can do if they have scoliosis. So let's kind of shift from scoliosis-specific and talk exercise in general. I know you already touched on, they can do whatever they will do, but are there things they need to be more careful of if they have scoliosis and they're looking to implement an exercise program, or are there things that are knowingly better for scoliosis patients, than not, say they're gonna pick up something new. What would your recommendations be?
So there is a really good answer to that. Um, there is only one type of exercise that will increase bone density, and that is an exercise where the heels are striking the ground. It creates like an electrical effect in the body and causes calcium to be laid down in the bones. So if they were going to pick which exercise to do, I would say pick something where their heels are striking the ground, and that can be running. It could be walking, it could be playing team sport, but it wouldn't be, for example, swimming, or elliptical, or cycling. So, and the reason I say that is because we know that adults with scoliosis tend to have osteoporosis, and we want to build up the bone density as much as we can, so we can use the physical activity to do that. And so I would say that's a, that's a good indicator to go by, is try to find something where your heels are going to strike the ground.
That is an awesome answer, and not the answer I was expecting, but I'm, I'm very educated just hearing that from you. So I liked that. I liked hearing that. Now, if somebody found us, whether it's CLEAR or this podcast, because they are researching the best exercise programs for scoliosis, what's the one thing you would want them to know or consider the most strongly in, in all of their research and what they're looking for?
You have to differentiate between general fitness exercising and scoliosis-specific exercises. General fitness exercising, or in, in fact, even things like yoga for scoliosis or Pilates for scoliosis, these are not comprehensive programs. These are designed to strengthen the core, stabilize the body, keep them fit. They're definitely good things, but they are not, they're not a full scoliosis exercise program. To achieve that, you have to have fitness exercising, Pilates, yoga, those things, plus the scoliosis-specific exercises. So it's important to understand that because you don't want to be misled into thinking, well, all I have to do is swim, or all I have to do is go walking and that's enough for my scoliosis. It's not, it's definitely an important part, don't get me wrong, but you need to combine that with a custom designed scoliosis-specific exercise program to get the best results. And when I say best results, I'm talking, not only pain control, but I'm talking stabilization, I'm talking cosmetic improvement, and I'm talking about many cases, significant curve reductions can be achieved simply with a scoliosis-specific exercise program.
And even within the realm of scoliosis-specific exercise, you said it yourself earlier. That is the spine of what we do at CLEAR, but it's just one part of the whole approach in its entirety. So I think that's, as always, phenomenal advice. And I appreciate you joining us and sharing with our listeners today. Is there anything else you want to add on that topic as we wrap up?
There is one more thing I want to say. And that is the, the scoliosis-specific exercise program has to be doable. It has to be that the person can actually take it home from the office and they can feel empowered that they can do these exercises themselves at home without requiring supervision. I think this is really a very important point. Sometimes these exercise programs can be overly complicated, and they don't transfer home very well. It is important. Bottom line, the person has to be able to do them.
I agree with that. If they can't do them, what good are they? So thank you so much for joining us again today, Dr. Andrew, it's always great to see you.
Okay. Thanks a lot for the opportunity. Ashley, talk to you soon.
Yeah, thank you.
If you're looking for more information about the best exercise programs for scoliosis, or would simply like more information or to find a CLEAR doctor near you, visit clear-institute.org. There is more to come next week.