Scoliosis is a major concern for teens and adults. Scoliosis is the abnormal sideways curvature of the spine, also called an s-curvature. In the absence of physical injury or trauma, the cause of scoliosis is unknown, which is why it’s called idiopathic (unknown origin).
While western medical literature holds that there is no cure for scoliosis, people who have the condition are often subjected to wearing restrictive braces or undergoing invasive surgery to install metal rods that support the spine and prevent it from further curvature. Unfortunately, these interventions aren’t always successful and in some cases, such as surgical intervention, can cause additional pain due to a stiff, inflexible spine.
Let’s look at scoliosis in a new way….if we look not at the bones but at the things that keep the bones in place, the soft tissue structures, we can see that the musculature is imbalanced side to side in a person with scoliosis. One side is too tight, pulling the spine sideways, and the other side is too loose, letting the spine get pulled.
Okay, so it’s not a disorder of the spine, then, but rather of the things pulling on the spine. But what controls the things that pull on the spine? If you guessed the brain, you win the grand prize on this one!
Your brain sends signals to your muscles, each and every single muscle fiber, telling them to fire or relax. Your brain does this all day long without you having to think about it. When you reach out for a glass of water, your brain organizes and coordinates that movement, again, without your conscious intervention.
So, obviously something in the wiring of a person with scoliosis got a little mixed up. Why is one side so tight and the other too loose? Because of a little thing called proprioception – your body’s orientation in space. Proprioception is what keeps you from banging into doorways and sticking your fork in your eye. It’s how you know where your feet are.
But studies have shown that people with scoliosis have a less refined sense of proprioception. Somehow, they’ve lost their sense of space. The first thing we do as babies once we are born (along with breathing, of course) is orient to ground and sky. Which way is up, which way is down? Preliminary theories suggest that scoliosis people either failed to do this initially or lost it somewhere along the road.
To get an idea of how important a sense of up and down are, try jumping in the air just by pulling your feet up. You don’t get very high, do you? No, you have to push down into the ground to get upward movement. The same is true for your posture. It’s hard to have a straight spine if you don’t have support from the ground.
So, back to the question of whether or not Rolfing works for scoliosis…I have seen tremendous changes in scoliotic spines with Rolfing therapy. If the person is young enough, the curve can be greatly reduced, almost to a level of imperceptibility. In adults, the changes are slower because the bones have actually changed shape to fit together into an s-curvature; however, I see tremendous restoration of mobility and flexibility within one to three sessions.
Pain is another complaint of those who have scoliosis, and while doctors may assert that scoliosis doesn’t cause pain, my clients beg to differ. Their backs are stiff and sore from holding themselves upright with a crooked body. As the tight muscles relax, the pain diminishes rapidly, and increased mobility means not having to brace so much throughout the day.
It’s my philosophy that there is no reason that scoliosis cannot be eradicated completely if we work with the soft tissue and the nervous system to reprogram the muscle fibers.
I am thinking of doig rolfing, I met a massage therapist who said he could help my scoliosis/overall body pain with rolfing. How would I work on the neurological side of it? Thanks
How does rolfing help to retrain the brain not pull on the spine if it’s use to doing it for so long?
Sukie Baxter says
Part of Rolfing is movement re-education using awareness to recognize patterns and create new options. It’s not purely mechanical. Some responsibility falls to the client, of course, to make use of those new available options once they leave the session and return to their everyday life.
But Rolfing also breaks up the fascia around the skeletal muscles to give freedom to the central nervous system and bones to move.