Dancing came naturally to Holli as she grew up in suburban Chicago. After all, her mom owned a dance studio. But performing dance moves was painful sometimes. “When I was dancing my lower back would spasm. The stabbing pain would intensify and I would have to stop,” Holli said. The family was unable to get an answer about why she was experiencing the back pain. But following a car accident four years ago Holli’s back pain got worse and it began affecting her sleep. Holli’s mom Lyndi said two years of therapy failed to help the pain.
The family was desperate for answers and reached out to the spine team at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, where Holli’s brother Casey was already a patient. They took X-rays and revealed the shocking news that Holli had a 25-degree thoracolumbar curve in her spine towards her left side, a condition known as scoliosis. “I was surprised. I owned a dance studio for 30 years. She danced and she wore leotards. There was no indication she had that degree of deviation in her spine,” Lyndi said.
While some patients with scoliosis may require surgery, others may be well served with noninvasive alternative treatments. Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago offers a personalized physical therapy treatment called scoliosis-specific exercises or SSE. This approach is based on the work of Katherina and C.L. Schroth – or the Schroth principles. The overall goal is to prevent progression of the curvature, improve postural alignment and reduce pain.
“This treatment is typically initiated for adolescents with scoliosis curves greater than 15 degrees when their referring physicians believe a conservative scoliosis-specific treatment approach is appropriate,” Nicole Viverito, PT DPT, said. Holli’s mom was very open to the SSE treatment. “I was hopeful because it wasn’t simply traditional therapy and because it was here at Shriners Hospital I knew it would be specialized to her needs.”
Holli joined the intensive outpatient SSE program where the patient comes for one week and receives twice daily, one-hour physical therapy sessions for SSE. There are also home exercises participants are required to complete daily. “It’s like a different vocabulary. Having Nicole say ‘You feel this muscle group? Expand this muscle group.’ The vocabulary used here in SSE helps you understand what it means and what they are asking. I can visualize expanding that area.”
Therapy is customized for each patient. “With SSE it depends on the patient’s curve and presentation. We use different props such as yoga blocks and wedges to position them more symmetrical. Patients use their muscles and breathing to hold themselves in that more optimal alignment,” Viverito said.
Before SSE, doing any type of movement using her back muscles was painful for Holli. She also experienced pins and needles in her left leg, and sometimes felt a pop when pushing herself off her stomach which caused her to lose her breath. All of these issues went away with the SSE therapy program. After only a few weeks of SSE, her back pain resolved; and after 12 weeks she showed significant improvement in her posture. “Schroth-type exercise is awesome and definitely works. I believe this even more after seeing my X-rays,” Holli said. Her curve went from 25 degrees to 20 degrees. “You can see the slight change in the curve but also you really see the shift of her hips, how her shoulders sit on top of her hips and a change in her neck,” Lyndi said.
The results of SSE and the experience at Shriners Hospitals for Children exceeded the family’s expectations. “I didn’t think SSE would improve her scoliosis symptoms as much as it did. I was hoping for some pain relief. But it’s really changed her life,” Lyndi said.
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