A Practical Guide for Handling a Diagnosis of Scoliosis

This guide is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional. Each case of scoliosis is unique and must be evaluated on an individual basis. Please consult with a scoliosis specialist before deciding upon a treatment plan.

Receiving a diagnosis of scoliosis can be stressful and scary. If you or your loved one have recently been diagnosed with scoliosis, this article can hopefully help guide you through some important steps, and help you to feel less anxious about what it means to have scoliosis.

Scoliosis can only be truly diagnosed by taking an x-ray; the scoliosis screenings that involve bending forward at the hip can only determine who might have scoliosis. Taking an x-ray is necessary to confirm that scoliosis is present. This article assumes that an x-ray has been taken, and the Cobb angle(s) have been measured.

Traditional orthopedic practice divides scoliosis into mild scoliosis (below 20 degrees), moderate scoliosis (20 to 40 degrees), and severe scoliosis (above 40 degrees). If the Cobb angle is above 40 degrees, surgery will most likely be recommended; this will be a topic for a future article.

Below 20 degrees, most orthopedic doctors will recommend “watchful waiting,” this refers to monitoring a curve and doing nothing unless it gets worse. However, what this actually means is that mild cases of scoliosis might not need to be braced, or have surgery. It does not mean that mild cases of scoliosis do not affect a person’s health. Even small curves can limit the body’s ability to exercise, increase the risk of back pain, and lead to reduced activity levels. People with mild cases of scoliosis tend to miss more days of school than people without scoliosis. It can also affect people’s self-image and emotional state.

It’s important to think, realistically, upon the way that the scoliosis is currently affecting your health, and how it might affect you in the future. If you are currently in no pain, have no problems breathing or sleeping, and have no noticeable postural asymmetries, it might seem reasonable to monitor it and do nothing. However, down the road, small imbalances cause greater wear and tear over time, and could lead to problems that are more difficult to treat.

See: How To Sleep With Scoliosis

At 20 to 40 degrees, bracing will probably be recommended. Have a discussion about bracing right away to determine if this is something your teenager is prepared to do, as it can be socially awkward for some. If the patient is not committed to wearing the brace, it will most likely not be effective. If you are considering braces, explore not just the traditional Boston brace, but also new brace designs coming out of Europe, such as the Rigo-Cheneau. Insist that an x-ray be taken in the brace; if the Cobb angle does not reduce by at least 50%, it is highly unlikely that the brace will prove to be effective in the long-term.

Look for scoliosis specialists in your area, and try to arrange at least one consultation within the month; if there are multiple scoliosis doctors or clinics, it’s never a bad idea to receive information from more than one source. Don’t hesitate to reach out to other specialists outside of your area via e-mail and telephone as well.

Decide whether or not you would consider traveling to receive care. The effectiveness of a brace and the outcome of the surgery depend heavily upon the physician’s experience with scoliosis, and some hospitals may have larger orthopedic departments with more resources dedicated specifically to scoliosis. There are also physical therapy clinics, chiropractic scoliosis clinics, and specialized bracing centers that will offer one, two, or four week treatment plans for patients who come and stay in the area.

Related: Living With Scoliosis: A Scoliosis Patient's Journey to Find Healing

When consulting with a scoliosis specialist, pay close attention to where they received their training from; their advice and recommendations to you will depend very heavily upon what they were taught. Most chiropractors receive very little training about scoliosis as a part of their formal education; unless they have attended additional postgraduate courses and seminars specifically on scoliosis, it is not very likely that they have an advanced understanding of the condition. Similarly, physical therapists are not taught how to deal specifically with scoliosis; you need to find a physical therapist who specializes in scoliosis-specific programs such as Schroth, SEAS, ScoliGold, or others. Yoga practitioners as well could prescribe exercises and stretches that may be harmful for some curve types; Elise Miller’s Yoga For Scoliosis program is developed specifically for scoliosis patients, and includes careful instruction to ensure that you only perform the maneuvers which are right for your spine.

General orthopedic surgeons might not have as much experience with scoliosis and bracing as orthopedic surgeons who choose to specialize in scoliosis, so try to find one that does if you can. Orthopedic scoliosis specialists know a great deal about bracing and surgery, but most won’t know much about chiropractic, physical therapy, or yoga besides commenting that there isn’t enough research on these methods. Some orthopedic surgeons may discourage you from pursuing these alternative methods of care; understand that in many cases, their opinion is based upon the lack of research, the poor track record of non-scoliosis-specific approaches, and their lack of familiarity with new scoliosis rehabilitation approaches.

Focus upon what is important to you, and how your scoliosis is affecting those aspects of your life. Make sure the treatment you select will improve your quality of life, and help you to maintain your function for years to come.

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8 comments on “A Practical Guide for Handling a Diagnosis of Scoliosis”

  1. Are there practitioners in Atlanta, GA trained in scoliosis correction program developed at CLEAR Institute?

    1. To locate a list of CLEAR Certified Doctors near you, please click on the "Find a CLEAR Doctor" button in the middle of the homepage of the website, or visit https://clearscoliosis.wpengine.com/find-a-doctor/. You can also find the "Find a Doctor" link at the top and in the bottom-right of each page. If there is not a CLEAR doctor within driving distance, please visit https://clearscoliosis.wpengine.com/about/the-clear-approach/ to find out more about your options for Intensive Care treatment.

  2. Hello. My name is Izzy. I heard about your institute from Dr Mercola after sending him a question on his website about what could be done alternatively for my son who's almost 16(in September). As of 4 months ago, the degree of his scoliosis was about 69%. To the Glory of God, he has no pain in his leg or any organs. It's just his back. He rated his pain at 7 at that time. As can be expected, surgery has been recommended (and this is after two opinions) but I remain adamant to have screws in my son's body which was what led me to some alternative treatments websites as well as yours. I know that it can get better within the next two to three years before the cartilage becomes set'n'solid by which time he'll be 18,19. So there is still time. My concern however is the years of experience of some of the Doctors I saw on your site. Another issue is distance. If I'm not mistaken, the one with the most experience closest to me is in Virginia, over an hour away from me. However the one with the most experience overall is based in New York. I don't mind relocating but there are so many factors that go along with making such big decisions. However, the most pressing issue of course would be FUNDS! I wish that all you professionals who practice alternative medicine could fight for Insurance for patients who prefer holistic alternatives. That being said, I don't have a clue what this treatment will cost. There, I've said a whole lot, waiting on your response.?

    1. Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share. I hope I can help answer some of your questions!
      The number of years next to each doctor's contact information on the "Find a Doctor" page refers to the years that they have been CLEAR certified, not to how many years they have been a chiropractor. The CLEAR certification process is very rigorous, consisting of hundreds of hours of hands-on and classroom training, as well as numerous exams and case studies. A CLEAR Certified Doctor - even one who has only been certified for one year - has more advanced training & understanding of scoliosis than the vast majority of traditional chiropractors or medical doctors.
      The Intensive Care treatment plan was created to help patients who are not located near a CLEAR Scoliosis Center. I would suggest that you contact the CLEAR doctors in Virginia and New York directly to help you determine what the best option might be for your son.
      As a healthcare professional myself, I am certainly in favor of insurance policies that empower patients to receive the care they choose for themselves or their loved ones. One of the goals of the CLEAR Scoliosis Institute is to elevate the level of evidence regarding chiropractic scoliosis treatment by publishing peer-reviewed scientific articles in high-quality journals; in this manner, we hope to influence the likelihood that insurance companies will cover the cost of treatment options other than bracing and surgery. You can help support us in this goal by becoming a CLEAR Champion and donating to the CLEAR Scoliosis Non-Profit; 100% of your donation is tax-deductible, and can be earmarked specifically for the purpose of research.
      Regarding fees, each CLEAR Scoliosis Center is responsible for determining their own billing & fee schedule; as a Non-Profit, CLEAR focuses upon providing education & training to doctors of chiropractic. You would need to contact the CLEAR Scoliosis Center directly to inquire regarding their fees for services. Many CLEAR Scoliosis Centers also provide services in assisting patients with insurance billing, appeals & denials, and peer-to-peer reviews at no additional charge; again, please contact the CLEAR Scoliosis Center directly to find out more information about their individual insurance policies.
      If there is any additional assistance we may provide, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected], or by calling (866) 663-7030. We wish you and your son all the best of health and happiness!

  3. I hear about many children and adolecence having scoliosis. But I am a very young 60yrs that has aquired injury induced scoliosis approximately 40degree for the last 5+yrs after rupturing 2 discs and not having health insurance nor the kind of money it takes to pay for anything substantial in regards to scoliosis and or the ruptured discs. Can you tell me if I can just purchase a really good brace somewhere in my own? Instead of paying a Dr. To get one? I have not the funds for either, but can save some money to purchase one eventually. Thank you.

    1. Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share! I hope I can be of assistance.
      Scoliosis bracing is typically only recommended for adolescents, not adults. However, there is some evidence to suggest that some types of bracing may help to reduce pain or muscle fatigue. The challenge is, a brace is more likely to be effective if it is designed specifically for you by a scoliosis specialist who is very familiar with your specific case. More important than cost is value - a $1,000 brace that truly helps is going to be much more valuable than a $250 brace that does not. I understand wanting to save money by purchasing a brace on your own, but please make sure you do your research carefully, and understand that braces designed for you by a medical professional tend to be more expensive because they are more likely to be effective.
      While I can offer no guarantees that any of these braces will be helpful for you, one that I have heard of, which is available for sale without a doctor's prescription, is the SLEEQ brace (https://www.quinnmedical.com/). Some other braces that do require a physician's prescription to order include the ScoliBrace (www.ScoliBrace.com), the SpineCor brace (www.SpineCor.com), and the Peak Scoliosis Brace (http://www.aspenmp.com/products/lower-spine/peak-scoli/).
      Best of luck to you!

  4. I am 72 years young & have post menstrual scoliosis!
    I live in Tallahassee Fl - is there a Doctor in my area??

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This website is for informational and general purposes only. Information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you have read on this site. 

CLEAR Scoliosis Centers are privately owned and operated chiropractic clinics. Doctors at CLEAR Scoliosis Centers are personally responsible for all clinical decision making. CLEAR Scoliosis Institute, a nonprofit organization, does not have any authority over the clinic, make any clinical recommendations, or dictate patient care.
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