How Can People with Scoliosis Benefit from Massage Therapy?

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Scoliosis is a type of postural deviation in which the spine curves laterally over the pelvis, almost always to the right. This condition is generally seen first in early adolescence or late childhood, when puberty triggers rapid growth. Girls are both more likely to be diagnosed with scoliosis and to need treatment. Though there is no “cure” for scoliosis or other postural spinal problems, massage has proven to be one excellent treatment method.

Bodywork can relieve pain, improve sleep, and increase range of motion compromised by the effects of scoliosis. In some cases, massage is able to reverse postural habits and prevent permanent damage to the spine or surrounding muscles and tissue. Ideally, the first signs of scoliosis are caught early and a massage therapist can begin alleviating the stress caused by abnormal spinal curvature on muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Chiropractic and Massage Therapies for Scoliosis

Chiropractic therapy is a go-to treatment for scoliosis, but it is best when paired with traditional massage. Chiropractic sessions can make significant adjustments to the spine and help correct years of postural problems, but treatments are generally less effective when not integrated with other bodywork.

It is essential to support the back tissues after a chiropractor adjusts spinal alignment, even minutely. Without this support, years of conditioning may cause the muscles to force the vertebrae back into the abnormal posture. Massage focuses on lengthening and relaxing the muscles and tissues on the concave side of the spine, helping retrain the muscles to function with the new posture and mobility resulting from chiropractic treatments.

A delicate structure, the spine should only be treated by a professional. Always seek a credentialed practitioner for both chiropractic and massage therapy.

Other Bodywork Modalities for Spinal Deviations

Many types of massage therapy can be helpful for various effects of scoliosis. The most appropriate type depends on an individual’s needs. Deep tissue massage can help someone whose body has compensated for the imbalance caused by spinal abnormalities, but because the approach generally involves a firm touch and heavy pressure, it may not be the most comfortable approach for some clients.

Myofascial release, which stimulates tissues and promotes greater mobility, works similarly but uses light pressure and gentle touch on the connective tissue, or fascia. This therapy is especially effective for pain relief and tension caused by spinal abnormalities. Massage therapists focus on reducing tightness in the fascia and increasing flexibility so tissue can accommodate a healthy spine structure. One study showed demonstrated improvement in posture, pain levels, trunk rotation, and overall quality of life for someone with scoliosis.

Jin Shin Jyutsu, a Japanese acupressure practice, is even less invasive. No palpation or massage is involved—the therapist simply rests hands at various points on the client’s body. This energy healing is believed to reduce pain and restore balance and energy flow throughout the body. Iona Marsaa Teeguarden found Jin Shin Jyutsu so effective at treating scoliosis-related back pain that she went on to study acupuncture, acupressure, and psychology. eventually developing Jin Shin Do Bodymind Acupressure as a result of her positive experience with Jin Shin Jyutsu.

Complications from scoliosis may cause not only pain but also severe mobility restrictions. Other therapy options introduce stretching, movement, and assisted exercises to correct alignment. The Alexander technique counteracts the effects of muscle compression, which can contribute to shortness of breath, joint constriction, headaches, and other issues. This modality focuses on proper positioning of the head and neck, lengthening the spine and helping the body relearn proper functioning. An Alexander session may consist of breathing exercises, seated postures, crawling, and bending.

Who Can Benefit from Massage for Scoliosis?

It’s always recommended to consult with your physician before seeking bodywork for any health condition; however, there are no general contraindications for massage and related treatments applied to scoliosis. Whether it’s identified early in adolescence or left untreated for decades, scoliosis can improve with the right kind of bodywork.

One study that examined a 40-year-old woman undergoing massage therapy and manual traction for scoliosis found significant improvements in mobility and correction of ribcage deformity with bodywork sessions over the course of eight years. Even when massage cannot correct spinal deviations, the benefits of easing tension and muscle stress cannot be understated. Research supports consistent use of bodywork—rather than palliative care, which addresses symptoms only when pain arises—in the treatment of scoliosis.

If you experience co-occurring health issues such as vascular problems, heart conditions, or chronic inflammation, consult with your doctor before seeking massage therapy for scoliosis.

References:

  1. Allison, N. (1999). The illustrated encyclopedia of body-mind disciplines, 37-39, 158-160, 187-191, 204-206. New York City, NY: Rosen Publishing Group.
  2. Hamm, M. (2006). Impact of massage therapy in the treatment of linked pathologies: Scoliosis, costovertebral dysfunction, and thoracic outlet syndrome. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 10(1), 12-20. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1360859205001257
  3. Hawes, M. C., & Brooks, W. J. (2001). Reversal of the signs and symptoms of moderately severe idiopathic scoliosis in response to physical methods. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, 91, 365-368. Retrieved from http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/15457757
  4. LeBauer, A., Brtalik, R., & Stowe, K. (2008). The effect of myofascial release (MFR) on an adult with idiopathic scoliosis. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 12(4), 356-363. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1360859208000648
  5. Tarola, G. A. (1994). Manipulation for the control of back pain and curve progression in patients with skeletally mature idiopathic scoliosis: two cases. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 17(4), 253-257. Retrieved from http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/7519232
  6. Werner, R. (2009). A massage therapist’s guide to pathology (4th ed.), 18, 122-123. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  7. What is scoliosis? Fast facts: An easy-to-read series of publications for the public. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/scoliosis/scoliosis_ff.asp
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