When Your Child Develops Idiopathic Scoliosis… Be proactive in managing your child's scoliosis, with effort you can help stop its progression

Scoliosis causes your child’s spine to become curved, sometimes in a C or S or double S shape. When your child develops idiopathic scoliosis, don’t panic. Think calmly, weigh your options and make decisions in consultation with everyone concerned – doctor, child(patient), family. Managing scoliosis is a long-term project, it takes concerted daily effort to stop the progression of the curve, more so during the growing years.

Though, most doctors claim that the curve does not worsen once the growth phase is over. As per my own experience, this is not true. There are numerous ways your child’s scoliosis could get worse – sitting too long, poor mattress support, lifting heavy loads, looking down at the phone, not exercising/stretching, and ongoing emotional stress. Being vigilant and proactive will prevent the curve from worsening.

On a positive note, from my own personal experience, scoliosis can get better with exercise, healing of our emotional trauma, and not straining our spines. The earlier we start working on dealing with this challenge the better the long-term outcomes.

When Your Child Develops Idiopathic Scoliosis…
Including your child in all treatment discussions, will help her feel empowered

Don’t Blame or Shame

Most importantly, do not blame or shame your child for their causing their scoliosis. It is termed idiopathic scoliosis (cause not known) because even doctors don’t know for sure what really causes it.  My father blamed me for bringing it on myself, by purposely standing lopsidedly like I had masochistic tendencies. Looking back I now realize that my father was one of the most idiotic and imperious people I have known. Once an idea got fixated in his head there was no budging or reconsideration.

Post my mother’s death my growing years were spent in a state of hypervigilance. My stance was one of a caged animal, crouching in fear – afraid of being sexually abused, of incurring my father’s wrath, of being mocked and rejected. I felt I was constantly in the line of fire and had to keep on my protective armor.

Scoliosis is not just a cosmetic problem. It is not something you can be flippant about – choosing to take care of when it’s convenient, or if it bothers you enough. Scoliosis can become a life-limiting and risky condition if neglected. So don’t fall for the wait and watch approach., take steps to ameliorate your child’s suffering.

As a parent of a child who has scoliosis, what can you do to help your child?

Scoliosis is typically put into one of three groups; mild is 1 to 19 degrees, moderate is 20 to 39 degrees, and severe is 40 degrees and above. The usual treatment for curves less than 45-50 degrees is bracing and physical therapy, only for curves above that benchmark, surgery is recommended.

It’s worth knowing that scoliosis has a tendency to progress the most when your child is still growing. That means it typically gets worse in his/her preteen and early teenage years when growth is maximum.

Getting Medical Advice

The first step is to find a doctor who has experience with this condition and also someone who is open to all options of healing modalities. If not satisfied with the treatment offered get a second or third opinion.  Find out what could be the cause. Not all diagnosed cases are idiopathic, sometimes, there could be other factors causing it. I remember reading in the Readers’ Digest of a case diagnosed as idiopathic scoliosis was actually caused by a spinal tumor.

Secondly, determine the degree of curvature and where it is located in the spine, right, left, cervical, thoracic or lumbar. The Cobb Angle is used as a standard measurement to determine and track the progression of scoliosis

Scoliosis is a psychosomatic condition. You have to tackle it utilizing both body and mind.

Let’s start with the physical aspect.

Physical Therapy

In order to avoid exacerbating the curvature one has to be ever vigilant and proactive. It is important to regularly work on one’s core, flexibility, and building muscle strength.

1) Exercise

Some form of physical therapy (PT)/exercise for scoliosis during those critical years can stabilize or reduce the curvature and prevent adult pain and suffering.  However, don’t be tyrannical it comes to exercising. With kindness, compassion, and mini rewards, you can coax them to keep at PT.

Most importantly, break down the exercise schedule into (5-10 minutes blocks), before school, after school, and before bed, instead of slotting a full one-hour schedule. This modus operandi makes exercising not such a huge task and moreover, it is better on a neuroplastic level. A minute or two every 2-hours is better than a 20-minute workout done every alternate day. Shorter intervals of repetition are what rewire the brain and change it more quickly.  Most importantly, keep it simple.

Just doing crawling, some Qigong, spinning (improves vestibular sense), and standing on a balance ball at regular intervals during the day has helped me enormously. I feel doing exercises focussing on just the curve is not very effective. Activities that utilize the whole body are much more beneficial. After all, scoliosis happens right from the eyes to the feet, even though it may not be apparent.

2) Breathing Exercises

Scoliosis is a complex condition involving not just sideways curvature but also vertebral rotation, mainly in the thoracic area. This results in distortion of the chest and rib cage which significantly affects respiratory function. Thus it is critical to include some form of deep breathing practice.

I realized this quite late. Nonetheless, daily practicing Wim Hof Breathing has significantly helped me improve my scoliosis.

3) Practise Pandiculation

According to somatic expert, Thomas Hanna, pandiculation is a better alternative to static stretchingThe motion of yawning and stretching where you squeeze your muscles at the peak of the stretch and releaseThis resets muscles at the nervous system level.

Instead of your child jumping out of bed, let them pandiculate like all animals and babies do when they wake up.

4) Pain Relief

Don’t discount or invalidate your child’s cry of pain. There is this erroneous belief that scoliosis does not cause pain. Sometimes it does and other times it does not. Each person is different.

In retrospect, before I actually felt something physically wrong with my spine,  I experienced chronic pain. I did not mention it to anyone because there was no one to mention it. I quietly bore the pain hoping it would dissipate. It did ease up once my spinal misalignment became more pronounced.  Living in constant back pain really messes up your mood and mental well-being.

Find solutions to manage your child’s scoliosis pain, it could be topical applications, heat treatment, or mild pain relievers. Your doctor will be your best guide.

4) Eye Correction, Orthopedic Insoles, and Orthodontic braces

Sometimes what is termed idiopathic scoliosis could have an underlying functional cause. Have a thorough check-up of eyes, teeth, and feet.

An ocular-motor imbalance results in adaptive compromises at multiple levels throughout the body. Misaligned eyes could lead to a misaligned spine. Check your child’s vision.

Recently a custom-made foot orthosis (shoe insert) has been used to manage idiopathic scoliosis. According to some studies insoles help to arrest the progression of scoliosis, as they help reduce muscle imbalances around the spinal area.

In some cases, correction of dental malocclusions with teeth braces has improved scoliosis.

With all three, it is the chicken and egg dilemma, did the eye, teeth, and feet issues cause scoliosis, or did scoliosis cause the misalignment. Only a specialist can be your best judge.

5) Avoid Heavy Backpacks/Loads /High-impact Contact Sports

While there is no evidence that confirms heavy backpacks or childhood sports injuries cause scoliosis. However, carrying excess weight can certainly aggravate the condition and contribute to a worsening of spinal curvature.

Furthermore, high-impact jolting can compress the spine which can aggravate the condition. Give your child the pros and cons and together make an informed decision about which sports to choose and which to drop.

6) Massage

While it may not fix the condition, regular massage can be quite beneficial for your child’s scoliosis. It helps relax the muscles, increase joint mobility, and reduces pain.

Furthermore, massage soothes the mind as well as the body. It decreases mental stress and is linked to a better ability to deal with chronic pain issues.

It is not necessary to have a professional massaging your child. A parent’s loving caressing massage with some warm oil can make a huge difference to a child’s pain and overall mental well-being.

Gentle touch releases oxytocin, the love hormone which inhibits the release of cortisol.

7) Bracing

A brace doesn’t reduce curvature, it may prevent it from getting worse. However,  there are divergent views on the efficacy of the brace. Some say it helps while others say it does not. However, do keep in mind, that even if it helps the changes don’t happen overnight. Consistency and patience are needed.

Moreover, for many children wearing a brace adds to their shame meter. You feel like a weirdo, an extraterrestrial alien in any social setting, particularly in school. I know I did which was one more reason for my father to further blame me for my scoliosis not improving.

So, if your doctor is suggesting this treatment modality, do discuss the matter with your child. Try to allay their fears of being mocked. If required meet his/her teacher/s and request their cooperation in tackling any form of bullying.

Don’t use threats or force to make brace wearing a regular habit. Here again kindness, compassion, and valid explanations will motivate them better.

Keep in mind the downside of wearing a brace is there are chances of developing a secondary curve when correcting the primary curve. Secondly, due to the fact that the body is in a rigid position, there is the possibility of muscles becoming weak and atrophying.

8) Buying Clothes That Are Comfortable Which Does Not Accentuate The Curve

Finding clothes for our scoliotic body can be a challenge. Forget the aesthetics, normal styled clothes can be uncomfortable due to the uneven shoulders, prominent ribs, or some other kind of asymmetry. Particularly, if you are female, finding a proper bra is a real challenge.

However, instead of overly trying to hide one’s flaws which may only make your child more self-conscious, get him/her clothes made of soft, comfortable material. Having the right clothes will help them improve their self-esteem and positive body image.

Our bodies affect how we feel about ourselves, though one cannot overnight change our structure, the right clothing, sometimes comfy innerwear can improve one’s mood to a great extent. For me, finally, finding the right bra, helped me feel more at ease in my body.

Emotional and Psychological Support

Even though the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study has been around for over 20 years, still the medical community refuses to consider ACEs to be the cause of idiopathic scoliosis. Nevertheless, I am 100% convinced my scoliosis was due to having to live in a state of constant fear and having so many responsibilities dumped onto my back literally.

1) Alleviating Environmental Stresses

Adverse Pre-Onset Experiences (APOEs) slowly build up till one finally something gives way. In addition to my mother’s death, sexual abuse,  abusive father, threatening teachers, rejecting grandmother, parentification –  my aunt’s accusation of trying to seduce her husband was the final straw that broke my back.

Our brains and nervous systems it seems are much more sensitive, and dependent, on our environments than earlier thought to be.

So please do an honest inventory of your home environment/school environment/peer environment and try to address the issues. One very prevalent pre-onset environmental causative factor in the development of scoliosis is parental divorce or the loss of a parent. Actress/model Isabella Rossellini and Princess Eugenie experienced acrimonious parental divorce prior to their developing scoliosis.

It all depends on a child’s temperament and the weak link in the mind-body continuum. Some break down mentally while others break down physically. Some children act out their unhappiness/pain while others repress it. Most often the sensitive types will bottle up their grief and pain, and hold it in their bodies. I was like that.

If the home situation is stressful, find ways for your child to express his/her feelings. If they are unable to talk freely with you find an alternative support person/therapist. Or encourage them to express it, through writing, painting, sports, or even video games (here you may have to supervise so that they do not get lost in the fantasy world of revenge or acting out).

Just the easing of a stressful home situation can miraculously cause the spine to spring back erect.

2) Helping Them With Bullying/ Teasing

Bullying and teasing can be extremely traumatic. Add scoliosis to that toxic culture and your child feels he is in a war zone. Their bodies are in a state of a constant stress response. The stigma of having scoliosis can be worse than the pain of scoliosis.

For children with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, getting through the school year – for that matter, even a school day can be a challenge –  it shapes their personality.

Visit your child’s school, talk to the principal/teachers and garner their support. If possible help your child find supportive friends.  Having a caring peer group can play a huge role in your child’s healing.

If the school situation does not ease up, you will have to find alternatives like a different school/class or home-schooling.

3) Encourage Healthy Eating

Poor nutrition by itself doesn’t cause idiopathic scoliosis. However, it does lead to nutritional imbalances which may accelerate the progression of scoliosis. Correcting your or your child’s nutritional deficiencies may help improve scoliosis.

Eating healthy, unprocessed foods helps your child get the proper balance of vitamins and minerals needed for optimal musculoskeletal health.

Avoid foods that contain lots of chemicals and additives – these can cause excessive inflammation and pain.  Most commercial ice-creams and mayo products contain emulsifiers that can cause havoc to the gut flora.
Including, fermented foods, not only helps gut health but translates into better nutrition absorption. Having good gut bacteria also improves one’s mental health. Gut bacteria are also responsible for producing many of the neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA that play key roles in brain function.
Eating daily serving of fermented beets and cabbage has substantially reduced my pain and improved my mood.

Successful Healing of Scoliosis

As a parent the best way you can help is by being there, listening, and holding space for them. We all long to be truly seen and heard more so when one is struggling with scoliosis.

Furthermore, always be vigilant about your child’s mental health. Having scoliosis makes one more prone to depression and suicide.  If you do notice something amiss, talk with them, hold them, hug them make them feel they are loved just as they are.

Don’t lose hope, be your child’s unwavering cheerleader.  Don’t make healing scoliosis like a painful life sentence, make it fun. Cut him/her some slack occasionally. Keep gently coaxing your child daily, moment by moment.

Hold the image of your child with a perfectly aligned spine. Remember the Bible verse, Matthew 18:19whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

Successful long-term healing depends on many factors – persistence, positive belief, emotional support, and doing the work.

Image Source: Pexels 

Further Reading:

Return to Nature – The Five Pillars of Healing –  Jon Burras

Breathwork: How a Daily Breathing Practice Can Drastically Improve Your Mind, Body, and Spirit – Jane Rivers 

The Psychology of the Body – Elliot Greene

Bodymind – Ken Dychtwald

Alignment Matters – Katy Bowman  

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