Help for chronic spinal curves?

Many of my massage clients have spinal curvature that differs notably from the lovely, gentle arcs of an anatomically neutral spine. Almost everyone has pelvic and spinal rotations, too, but that’s a matter for another day.

Sometimes those curves are in the coronal plane, as in scoliosis. Sometimes they’re in the sagittal plane, as in lordosis (excessive curvature in the low back) and kyphosis (computer slouch gone chronic). Often they’re in both. Our bodies are remarkably adaptable; organs move around if they need to (witness pregnancy) and we figure out ways to make inefficient paths of movement functional for us. But these curves will always detract from the optimal functioning of breath, at the very least, and from optimal ease and balance of movement.

Any coronal curvature, whether it’s mild or diagnosed as scoliosis, necessarily involves asymmetry in the muscles surrounding the spine and, by extension, muscles throughout the trunk. Asymmetry means some muscles are locked into an overly long position and some are locked short. Neither set can fire as well as would be ideal; the long ones will be weak. It’s a complex puzzle, however, because very often spinal curvature arises as a result of imbalances, hypertonicity, or fascial adhesions lower in the body. When my clients are on the massage table I work to lengthen the short muscles and remind the locked-long ones that they have other options, but how do you teach the body alternatives to its usual habits?

That’s why I was so intrigued to read about The Schroth Method. I was tipped off to it by an article in The New York Times Well Blog earlier this year. It’s a system of highly specific exercises designed to address each person’s unique muscle imbalances, developed by Katharina Schroth in Germany in the 1920s. It seems to be widely accepted in Germany and is just beginning to catch on here in the States. There haven’t been many large-scale studies on it yet, but it really appeals to me for the specificity and rigor of its approach and for the way, as Christa Lehnert-Schroth writes on their website, it “gives a patient the knowledge and tools to control her or his own postural health, lifelong.”

I’m very curious about whether/how these exercises could be applied in cases of mild curvature that stems from myofascial imbalances or issues elsewhere in the body. And besides, you know I’m all about giving people the knowledge and tools to be at home and comfortable in their own bodies. So, thanks to my partner, a kind friend, and UPenn’s library, I’m getting my hands on a copy of Lehnert-Schroth’s book. I’ll let you know what I discover.

Do you feel like you have agency and the tools you need to address whatever issues you have with your spine and your body? If not, what would help? Do you have scoliosis? How have you approached treatment? Have you tried the Schroth Method?

In the meantime, though I’m a big fan of opening the chest, I promise I won’t treat my clients with kyphosis by propping them on metal posts and wrapping them in a plaster jacket.

Kyphosis bar supports

The steel bars are bent to fit the straightened spine from the apex of the kyphosis downward…. Laid supine upon these bars, with the part of the body above the kyphosis extending beyond their ends, the weight of the upper part of the body will straighten the deformity more than it can be straightened in any other way during the application of the jacket.

– image and text from Lectures on Orthopedic Surgery by Robert Jones, John Ridlon, and Hugh Owen Thomas. Published 1899.