Scoliosis. If you were ever told that you might have it, you should read this.
Good morning Burt
Today, Burt saw me reading medical journals online. He dismissively told me that it was a total waste of time, and that I’d be better off watching Instagram reels, or Youtube videos of cats being funny. I protested that I was staying up-to-date on research for my next book, the one about Scoliosis. He snorted, saying “what can you write that would be new about how to cure scoliosis? I can google how to correct my scoliosis, and there are youtube videos of exercises for scoliosis. What a waste of time!”
So I had to set things straight.
Eating an elephant
In my first book, Befriend Gravity, I introduced the key ingredients to a healthy spine, demystifying the steps to build good spinal health. I explained how to stack your spine into a better posture, leaving pain and stiffness behind, and liberating a more true, happy version of you.
But I only dedicated one very short chapter (chapter 8, if you have the book) to scoliosis. The original drafts of the book were different. In fact, I cut 18,000 words of scoliosis material from the original draft, because it was just too specialist for the average reader. Trying to fit it all in would have been like eating an elephant, all at once. But why? Why would I even bother writing about a topic which has so many other publications, and so many self-proclaimed specialists?
This is a big spoiler alert for my next book, because what I am going to explain here is an important part of my Scoliosis book.
Scoliosis affects your health, dismiss it at your own peril
Scoliosis, despite being well documented since the time of Hippocrates, is a condition where 90% of all diagnoses are still attributed to “unknown cause.” For real, I am writing this in 2023 and we supposedly don’t know what causes 90% of scoliosis. Burt often uses a modern phrase which explains this… “FFS!” It is a condition which affects in the region of 4% of the population. We once believed that it was “static” after childhood… it would not worsen as you age, but we now know for sure that scoliosis worsens through life, causing increasing problems as we age. Some specialists nonetheless continue to tell their young patients that once they reach adulthood, their scoliosis will no longer change. Again, “FFS!” Scoliosis is a big deal for your health or the health of your child. It worsens over time. It should be taken seriously.
How do you know if you have scoliosis?
Many parents feel guilty for not noticing their kids’ scoliosis. About 2/3rds of scoliosis is not diagnosed. The reality is that it is often difficult to see, especially in young kids. When the kid becomes an adolescent, and starts to stay still, it becomes more obvious. Perhaps a trip to the beach, and someone spots a rib hump. Or a family photo, and one shoulder is lower than the other. Some people don’t find out until they are getting fitted for their wedding outfit! I’ll deal with this more another day, but a starting point is to simply take your or your kids top off, and look in the mirror. Are the gaps under the arms the same shape? Do your hands touch the same height on each thigh? Is one shoulder higher than the other? If you lean against the wall, does your back rest evenly without feeling more pressure on one side?
What this post is not
This post is obviously not a diagnosis or treatment for scoliosis. In this post I am not going to explain every detail and nuance of scoliosis… read Befriend Gravity for an overview, or wait for the publication of my next book. But I am going to explain a simple mechanism which may be behind much of that 90% of scoliosis with “unknown cause.” Not only that, but it is the mechanism which makes skilful Chiropractic care look like magic in kids with scoliosis. When I say skillful, I mean chiropractic care and adjustments dedicated to detecting and reducing vertebral subluxation… that is abnormal posture or function between the bones in your spine, which places pressure on your nervous system. I am not talking about spinal manipulation by therapists aiming to mask pains or cure injuries. Chiropractic care is about maximising your spinal health, not removing any specific illness.
Remember “your senses”
We all have five well known senses… touch, hearing, sight, smell and taste. But there is another sense, your sixth sense. This is called proprioception. Proprioception is your “perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body.” Proprioceptive sensors are all over your body, mostly around the joints, and constantly tell your brain exactly what posture you are in. All automatically… you don’t need to worry about it, although perhaps some of us should!
Chiropractic adjustments have a profound effect on your proprioception, as the majority of the proprioceptive feedback in your body comes from your spine. The 1981 Nobel Prize winner for brain research, Dr Roger Sperry stated that 90% of the stimulation and nutrition to your brain is generated by spinal movement. This may all sound irrelevant, but bear with me for a minute.
Why you don´t fall over (most of the time)
Something needs to keep the structure upright, it should be balance, NOT strength.
Your spine has 24 moveable bones, each one held together by a set of muscles, delicately poised one on top of the other. What holds them there? Muscles. Well in particular, muscular co-ordination. NOT strength, but co-ordination. This co-ordination depends on proprioception. If your proprioceptors can send accurate messages to your brain about your posture, then your brain can contract all of those tiny muscles around your joints to constantly correct your posture, and to make sure that you Befriend Gravity, instead of fighting against it. This is the normal healthy design. Your spine wants to be in a good posture, straight upright when seen from the back. You are designed to be upright, healthy, happy.
What happens when one or some of the proprioceptors are shut off, say for example after a minor slip or fall? What happens when your brain no longer has a clear picture of how your posture is? What happens when instead of contracting the little spinal muscles on the right, you contract the left?
A healthy proprioceptive system always seeks a good posture, without effort. Your body does not want a crooked spine, it knows it damages your health. When this feedback is broken, when you cannot correct, you stop auto-correcting your posture.
What I see, what you feel
The most common way we see this in practice is when people have lost postural awareness. No amount of strengthening or stretching can fix this. This is not a strength-length problem, it is a control-feedback problem. There is an interruption in the normal feedback loop. This is the effect of the vertebral subluxation.
How you feel this in day to day life is not always obvious. Struggling to hold a good posture, feeling fatigued, or feeling like your head weighs too much for your neck are all possible signs. But we also know that older people tend to lose balance, trip and fall because of this. This is why older people under chiropractic care have fewer falls, and a better life. Kids with proprioceptive deficit cannot excel in sports as much as they would otherwise do. They sit awkwardly and need constant correction. Some people also get pain and injuries, like disc hernias or headaches, but these are knock-on effects from the chronic bad posture caused by the subluxations.
One of the most important, yet overlooked manifestations of an impaired sixth sense is abnormal spinal curvature… scoliosis.
How do we measure this in practice?
There are many ways to check this. Some of the nervous system tests which we do with new clients give us a clue. If your proprioceptors are working well, you should share your body weight equally between both feet, correct? If you carry 5, 10, or even 15 kilos more on one foot, then there must be something disconnecting your body from your brain. We commonly see people in their new client examination carrying much more weight on one foot. The problem is that you are not designed to carry extra weight on one leg for your whole life! And if you do it for long enough, then you get degeneration and injuries all on one side. Is that hip arthritis due to age, or the fact that you have unknowingly been carrying an extra 10kilos on that side for 30 years? Why does the other hip not also have arthritis? You start to get the idea… proprioceptive loss is not always obvious, but it has profound long-term health effects.
Get to the point, Glenn
I digress. You may be thinking “how can I improve my scoliosis.” We routinely see young people in practice, often between the ages of 8- 16, who have been told that they have scoliosis. That there is nothing that can be done, they should just wait and see if it worsens. Waiting and watching your kid develop a major health problem because of scoliosis is, well… as Burt would say… “FFS!” And then they have been told what I call the idiot word… “Idiopathic.” Idiopathic means “we don’t know the cause.” In some such cases, the cause is simple and obvious, like one leg shorter than the other. But in many cases, the cause is less obvious. Less obvious until we turn their proprioceptors back on.
Check out this short video explaining “magical postural changes” under chiropractic care. It is important to understand that these adjustments are not aimed at correcting a slipped disc, chronic digestive issues, or low back pain. These things may be symptoms of a worsening scoliosis, but the goal of chiropractic care is to reconnect the brain to the body, and watch the magic happen. Remember to come back to the rest of this post afterwards!
What about us oldies?
This does not mean that older adults cannot have abnormal spinal curves due to proprioceptive problems. We do, too. There is another “mysterious” category of scoliosis called adult de novo scoliosis. Hear Burt saying “FFS” again? These scolioses are first noted over the age of 40. Most de novo adult scoliosis are due to injuries which “got better” without the proper care. Or put another way, you cannot feel them, but they never “got better.” You once had low back pain, and naturally leant away from the painful area. Over time you felt less pain, but it scarred over, and it got stuck like that. Your proprioceptors cannot win the battle- they have been shut down, and the area stiffens and scars. Eventually calcium deposits into that scar tissue. These “osteophytes” or “bony peaks” can be seen as degeneration on x-ray. Congratulations, you can now have a new fancy medical diagnosis; “degenerative scoliosis.” If you have masked the pain with painkillers and carried on, thinking that it has “gone away on its own”, then you have multiplied the problem. This is not rocket science, and it is why masking the pain and not getting good quality care is a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity for a long, healthy, happy life. Hopefully you are not one of them, but there are millions of people walking around with half-healed injuries, which are currently scarring and degenerating. Our medical culture has taught us to “wait until it really hurts”… when the area has really degenerated. You don’t need to study for 8 years to figure out what Burt would say… “FFS!
How to switch on your sixth sense
There are many healthy habits which keep your proprioceptors working. Yoga, pilates, dance, tennis, and other whole-body, multiple direction sports challenge and constantly train your proprioceptors. BUTT. This is my big BUTT… if your proprioceptors were once switched off, and that level has scarred over, then the only way to restore motion is to get adjusted by a good chiropractor. In fact stretching, strengthening and generally exercising a subluxated spine will mask things, possibly for years, as your spine carries on degenerating and aging prematurely. I say this every day, and I will say it again… whether or not you have pain is a terrible measure of your spinal health!
Vertebral subluxation… that is scarring and proprioceptive loss in your spine, does not self-correct and cannot be strengthened or stretched away. Manipulation… that is clicking the spine without knowing how to adjust might help, but manipulation usually goes after the painful area, which means that it often misses the most subluxated area.
Chiropractic adjustments are not magical, you are
If you have read Befriend Gravity, you will have heard me getting angry about this, but treating the area of pain is NOT the proper practice of chiropractic. Chiropractic care adjusts the subluxated levels, irrespective of any pain they may or may not have. When that scar reduces, when your proprioceptors get switched back on, then we start to see what appear like miraculous changes. Especially with kids, substantial spinal curves often disappear- just see the video above. But there is no magical change here. Your body is the living miracle, always trying to heal and do the best for you. The miracle was there all along, chiropractic care just allows your body to heal without interference.
If you or a loved one have scoliosis, the minimum you can do is to simply get adjusted regularly by a good chiropractor. The simple fact of keeping your proprioceptors firing, and your brain-body connection at 100%, gives you the best chance.
If you are in the Marbella area, then click here to see how we might be able to help you. If not, visit www.chiroalliance.org to find a chiropractor near you.