Yoga for Scoliosis

Loren Fishman, M.D., Tue, 22 Jan, 2019

Yoga is the simple, innocuous and effective new treatment for scoliosis, scientifically proven over the past 10 years. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268609/)

This is big news for more than 7 million Americans, mostly young girls, who have a lateral curvature of the spine. Scoliosis can be crippling, painful, unsightly and potentially dangerous for lungs, heart and other internal organs.

Commonly the scoliotic curve is in the thoracic spine behind the ribs, or in the lumbar spine, or both. These double curves are known as “S” or “reverse S” scoliosis. Bracing and other conservative treatments are ineffective and frequently emotionally and socially unacceptable. Surgery often needs to be repeated and means life-long stiffness and limited mobility.

TREATING SCOLIOSIS QUICKLY AND EFFECTIVELY

My patients have found great, almost miraculous success – and relief – with simple yoga poses almost anyone can do. On the average, curves are reduced 2.5% to 3.5% each and every month the pose is done. Some people, eager to improve more quickly, do the pose several times daily. These people show accelerated improvement. We have been using two other promising poses in the past 2 years, and the results are even better, but we don’t yet have enough patients to justify publishing these results.

Vasisthasana, the side-plank, has reversed lumbar scoliotic curves reliably, provided the practitioner does it daily with the convex side down, the feet stacked on top of one another, and holds it as long as she or he can. Ardha Chandrasana, the half-moon pose, has been effective for thoracic curves, given some refinements and props, but again, done with the convex curve downward, and done for as long as possible at least once a day.

Why has it taken so long to find a simple, innocuous, effective treatment? The history of scoliosis is shot through with confusion, in fact, contradictory confusions. When the spine veers off concave to the left, the ribs on the right side splay out like the spokes of a wheel, like old-fashioned Asian fans, spreading apart the soft tissues, the muscles and stretching the skin. The ribs then migrate back into the space created by this spreading, making for the bulge commonly seen on the convex side of a scoliotic curve. That side is hard, firm, with skin stretched tight as a drum. This has prompted physicians over the centuries to believe that the convex side were the strong side. But actually, like a drum, that space is hollow. The convex side is the weak side, overpowered by the muscles on the side toward which the spine is bent. This has confused clinicians and led them astray for hundreds of years, so that no coherent and effective conservative treatment has ever emerged.

THE PROBLEM WITH BRACING

Traditional treatment starts bracing when the X-ray Cobb angle of one curve reaches 25 degrees, and consider surgery after 45 degrees. The braces, often worn 23 hours per day (!) are notoriously ineffective and have major psychological and social drawbacks, including adverse changes in body image, major deterrents to sports, swimming, dancing and the like, and often a degree of peer-group isolation, either self-imposed or from the subtle ostracism so common in the 11-13-year-old set. And they often don’t work. As a consequence, scoliosis treatment has been dominated by the last resort – surgery. Over 38,000 such surgeries were performed last year, at a cost of approximately $7,100,000,000. The personal costs are at the very least proportional.
Our method uses a concept of Buckminster Fuller of Geodesic Dome fame: a tensegrity structure is one that is held together by tension between its parts: a tent pole with its downward pulling ropes, and the solar system held together by the invisible tethers of gravity are examples. Our spines are tensegrity structures, with muscles generating the tensions. The yoga poses used to reverse scoliosis merely strengthen the muscles on the convex (weaker) side until the right and left are pulling symmetrically.

There are now hundreds of individuals who’ve cured or greatly reduced their scoliosis at a very low physical, emotional and financial price, just by doing this simple yoga!


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