Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just at the beginning of puberty. It affects about 3 percent of adolescents, mostly girls.
Most cases are mild, but some spine deformities continue to worsen as children grow. Severe scoliosis can be disabling. The curvature and twisting of the spine can reduce the amount of space within the chest, crowding the heart and lungs and affecting their function. Scoliosis can also cause debilitating chronic back pain.
More severe cases require bracing or surgery. Physical therapy is recommended — both before and after — to address asymmetry and weakness in the trunk. With mild cases, doctors often take a wait-and-see approach, monitoring with X-rays and eschewing treatment. But even mild cases can affect a young person’s gait, coordination, balance, and self-esteem. In recent years, it has been shown that active intervention with physical therapy is helpful no matter the severity of the scoliosis.
Using the SEAS method
In my practice, I have found the SEAS method (Scientific Exercise Approach to Scoliosis) to be effective in improving stability and function and even correcting the spinal curve. This method has been used in Europe for decades and is now gaining traction in the United States, though not all insurance companies cover the treatment yet. The Creamer Family Physical Rehabilitation Center is one of only a few hospital rehabilitation centers in the area to offer this holistic, sustainable approach.
With the therapist as a hands-on guide, SEAS uses postural training incorporated with functional and breathing exercises to improve the alignment and stability of the spine. In the beginning, the therapist does manual correction, with the child sitting in front of a mirror. The patient is taught to recruit the weak muscles of her back to get in better alignment.
SEAS therapy is manageable, adaptable, and practical – no bulky or expensive equipment is needed. Patients can be taught to manage the follow-through of doing the exercises at home.
SEAS has been used before and after bracing and surgery, or for less severe cases with very good results. I’ve seen great changes in helping patients relieve pain and improve malalignment.
Timing is essential
It is best if I see children before the effects of scoliosis become more pronounced so that we can begin realignment therapy ahead of their skeletons reaching maturity post-puberty. Without correction, the curvature becomes worse, so time is of the essence. It is best if I see children before puberty, girls by age 11 and boys by age 13.
Before puberty – and more importantly during that period, when the risk of progression of the scoliotic curve is at its highest – physical therapy can actually prevent so-called “wedging of the bone” that occurs with curvature of the spine.
After puberty, therapy may not be able to change the skeletal structure, but it can still improve the body’s neuromotor function by affecting muscles, nerves, and connective tissues, including fascia. We can use SEAS to provide stability and to arm patients with improved body awareness and postural control to improve malalignment.
Ask for a scoliosis screening for your child
Routine screening for scoliosis is still performed in schools, but cases can be overlooked. The curvature may be missed because it is gradual and often painless. Parents should make sure a scoliosis screening is part of routine physicals by their children’s pediatrician or other primary care provider in pre-adolescence and adolescence.
Parents, take note: You may be the first to see a problem. Signs include asymmetry of the body: uneven shoulders, ribs, breast, waist, or hips. A shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other is also a sign, as is an uneven gait. Observe your child’s posture regularly.
Preventing long-term effects
At the Creamer Family Physical Rehabilitation Center, we can assist patients in managing their lifelong journey with scoliosis more effectively. Proper and timely treatment means patients with the disease may be spared long-term effects that would require surgery. SEAS therapy can also help adolescents with body-image issues that sometimes result from even mild cases. We can help patients overcome weakness, build endurance, and improve self-confidence.
I started training in the SEAS technique in 2019 and am pleased to offer it here in my practice at Holy Name. I have changed many lives with SEAS and hope to change many more. Remember, we’ve got your back!
If you think your child could benefit from SEAS call the Creamer Family Physical Rehabilitation Center at 201-833-3085.
Gina Plata, DPT, has been a practicing physical therapist since 1997 and began working at Holy Name in 2007. She was granted an academic excellence award in receiving a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 2012. Dr. Plata treats a range of patients and conditions; she specializes in pediatric cases.