What is Scoliosis?
The spine has four curves - cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. These curves are natural and healthy for us a upright beings and benefit us as shock absorbers. The natural curves of the spine curve from front to back and back to front. Some people's spines also curve laterally (side-to-side), which is called Scoliosis. A variety of factors may contribute to Scoliosis, including spinal deformities, genetic conditions, or one leg being longer than the other. People who have a family history of Scoliosis are more likely to develop it. Around 80% of cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning that there is no know cause.
Scoliosis affects not only the spine, but the ribcage (which is attached to the spine), the shoulders (one is often lifted to compensate), and the hips and legs (one side of the pelvis often lifts up). See photo to left of Lindsay as a teen. Take note that her right hip is lifted up higher than her left and her right shoulder is pressed down.
The Alexander Technique and ...
Adults With Scoliosis
Adults with scoliosis ranging from mild to severe may experience back pain or discomfort. People with scoliosis often stiffen to hold themselves up or collapse and sink down into the lateral curve. Those who do not have Scoliosis encounter similar challenges in regards to the natural front-to-back curves, but people whose spines also curve laterally face an added challenge. Even people with Scoliosis who do not experience regular pain, may find that they are fidgety, often uncomfortable, and have trouble sitting or standing in one spot for even short periods of time. A person who was treated with a brace or has had rods surgically placed in their back may have developed harmful habits in relation to the treatment (see section above on "bracing").
The Alexander Technique can help a person with Scoliosis stop the habit of stiffening to stabilize themselves and instead allow their deep postural support muscles to do the work of holding them up. They may still maintain the structural curve, but can undo the unnecessary tensions and collapse around it, resulting in being able to comfortably maintain upright posture, feel more relaxed, and breath with less effort. The scoliosis will also likely look less noticeable.
Children Developing Scoliosis or Undergoing Treatment
1- Prevention - If a child is found to have mild Scoliosis or may be at risk of developing Scoliosis, the Alexander Technique can bring to their attention ways in which they may be habitually pulling to one side or compressing themselves, which could be contributing to the onset or worsening of a lateral curve. The person can become aware of these habits and learn how to release up through the curve rather than compressing it down further. Many factors may contribute to the onset and progression of scoliosis, one of which may be postural habits.
2 - Coping with Bracing - Adolescents whose Scoliosis reaches a certain point and continues to progress are often treated with a brace that they are fitted for a wear under their clothes for a prescribed amount of time each day (sometimes nearly the whole day). Though a brace may halt the progress of a lateral curve, it can contribute to other problems as explained below.
Breathing - A brace fitted around the torso (especially a brace made of hard plastic) squeezes the ribcage and abdomen and gets in the way of proper expansion of the torso during breathing. The brace-wearer will likely feel short of breath and will compensate by lifting the upper chest and shoulders in order to breathe. To some degree, breathing in this way may be unavoidable while wearing the brace. Through Alexander Technique lessons, the person can recognize that they may be developing poor breathing habits while wearing the brace. Lessons can help them learn to allow for fuller, more expansive, natural breathing when the brace is off. They can also learn how to maximize their breathing while wearing their brace, by allowing for as much expansion of the ribcage and abdomen as possible.
Muscle Tone - A brace holds the torso tightly and sets up a situation in which the wearer may have trouble allowing for the natural, supportive elastic expansion of the back muscles. Though the brace may prevent the curve from worsening, the person may develop a weak, unsupported back. They also may develop a great deal of tension in the neck, shoulders and legs to compensation for the lack of postural support in the back. The person may also collapse their upper torso and shoulders down onto the top of the brace, using it as a shelf to rest on, resulting in a habitual slump forward. The Alexander Technique can help the brace-wearer to become more aware of their body as an integrated, working unit from head to toe. Using the body in a more integrated way will help keep the back toned even while wearing the brace. The wearer can also learn how do further undo muscular constriction due to brace-wearing during the time when they are not wearing the brace. Potentially harmful constriction that occurs while wearing the brace does not have to become an unconscious habit that sticks with the person when the brace is off or when the person has completed treatment with the brace.
Lindsay has scoliosis and was treated with a brace as a teen. Click here to read her story and how The Alexander Technique helped her.
Click here to read Lindsay's related blog post: