Basic yoga pose reduces idiopathic scoliosis curves for adolescent, adult patients

A basic yoga pose, done for an average of only 1.5 minutes a day, six days a week for two months, reduced idiopathic scoliosis curves for adolescent and adult patients an average of 32% in the first peer-reviewed published clinical trial studying yoga for the reduction of scoliosis curves. The 25-participant trial was evaluator-blinded, X-ray based and used the standard Cobb method for measuring results. Among nineteen compliant patients who did the yoga more than three times a week, the improvement was 40%. In this group of compliant patients, adolescents improved 49.6% . almost half; adults improved 38.4%. All patients did the Side Plank (Vasisthasana) yoga pose, and all patients did it on one side only - the side of the curve.

"Since scoliosis is an asymmetrical condition, I have treated it asymmetrically, asking patients to do the pose on the weaker side only. That strengthens the specific spinal muscles on the convex side that are needed to help with curve reduction," said Loren Fishman, MD, who conducted the study with researchers Karen Sherman and Eric Groessl. "While the National Scoliosis Foundation (NSF) recommends twenty-five yoga poses, it does not cite clinical results and does not suggest that the poses be done asymmetrically."

Scoliosis causes 600,000 doctor visits annually in the United States, and 38,000 patients have spinal fusion surgery, according to the NSF. The annual cost is in the billions.

The most common conservative treatment for this widespread condition is bracing. Braces are usually worn for twenty-three hours a day. One of the most popular bracing methods calls for patients (usually adolescent girls) to take part in 40 2-hour sessions three times per week for three-four months. Patients are then advised to continue exercises for half an hour a day as long as they live. "Since many scoliosis patients are adolescent girls, the unwieldy bracing and lengthy exercising is socially awkward, emotionally painful and physically difficult," says Dr. Fishman. "And yet untreated scoliosis can progress at 7% per year, and result in disability and life-threatening health risks.

Dr. Fishman's research method called for an initial office examination, followed by an X-ray done and evaluated by an unaffiliated radiologist. Then the patient was taught the yoga and did the yoga. After an average of 6.8 months, a second X-ray was independently evaluated.

Other research with 15 hours a week of exercises found improvements, but it measured the spinal twist that results from advancing scoliosis, not the curve. Dr. Fishman believes the curve is what needs to be treated, that it comes first and causes the twist.

"Asymetrically strengthening the convex side of the primary curve with daily practice of the Side Plank (yoga pose) held for as long as possible (up to 2 minutes) for 3 to 22 months appeared to reduce the primary sclerotic curve," the paper concludes. Dr. Fishman believes further research is warranted.

SOURCE Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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