Pilates for scoliosis

Pilates may improve the problems associated with scoliosis. (1)

After treating a client for about four months, applying some of Pilates method techniques, together with some additional small equipment there has been a substantial correction in a client's spinal problem. The posture is now very much better, shoulder pain virtually gone and much less lower back pain and that should be maintained if she continues with the pilates exercise programme.

Case Report (extract)

Scoliosis treatment using a combination of manipulative and rehabilitative therapy: a retrospective case series
© 2004 Morningstar et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1  Mark W Morningstar -Director of Research, Pettibon Biomechanics Institute 3416-A 57
th St Ct. NW; Gig Harbor, WA 98335, USA

2  Dennis Woggon - Director, CLEAR Institute; 437 North 33
rd Ave; St. Cloud, MN 56303, USA

3  Gary Lawrence - Director, Lawrence Chiropractic Clinic, 13961 60
th St North; Stillwater MN, 55082, USA



The combination of spinal manipulation and various physiotherapeutic procedures used to correct the curvatures associated with scoliosis have been largely unsuccessful. Typically, the goals of these procedures are often to relax, strengthen, or stretch musculotendinous and/or ligamentous structures. In this study, we investigate the possible benefits of combining spinal manipulation, positional traction, and neuromuscular reeducation in the treatment of idiopathic scoliosis.


The combined use of spinal manipulation and postural therapy appeared to significantly reduce the severity of the Cobb angle in all 19 subjects. These results warrant further testing of this protocol.


A total of 22 patient files were selected to participate in the protocol. Of these, 19 met the study criterion required for analysis of treatment benefits. Anteroposterior radiographs were taken of each subject prior to treatment intervention and 4–6 weeks following the intervention. A Cobb angle was drawn and analyzed on each radiograph, so pre and post comparisons could be made.


After 4–6 weeks of treatment, the treatment group averaged a 17° reduction in their Cobb angle measurements. None of the patients' Cobb angles increased. A total of 3 subjects were dismissed from the study for noncompliance relating to home care instructions, leaving 19 subjects to be evaluated post-intervention.


The combined use of spinal manipulation and postural therapy (1) appeared to significantly reduce the severity of the Cobb angle in all 19 subjects. These results warrant further testing of this protocol.


In the MEDLINE- indexed literature, chiropractic treatment has shown to be largely ineffective at significantly reducing scoliotic curvatures. Chiropractic treatment for scoliosis typically consists of spinal manipulation, electric stimulation, some form of isotonic, active exercises, and shoe lifts [1]. However, Lantz et al [2] has shown that these procedures, when applied over a one-year duration, were not sufficient to significantly reduce the Cobb angle of a scoliotic curvature.

The treatment in this study focuses on the reduction of scoliosis by manipulative and rehabilitative methods not commonly used by most chiropractors. The major difference in this treatment compared to others is that stimulation of the involuntary postural reflexes is utilized in the clinic setting as well as in home care. Many of the proposed etiologies of idiopathic scoliosis are neurological in origin, including brain asymmetry [3], neural axis deformities [4], and central nervous system processing errors [5]. Additionally, many coexistent neurological alterations are present in scoliosis patients, such as visual deficiency [6] and decreased postural stability [7,8]. Therefore, the goals of the proposed treatment are not only to reduce the scoliotic curvatures, but also to rehabilitate any underlying postural and neurological weaknesses or imbalances. Previous chiropractic authors have investigated the effectiveness of various physiotherapeutic modalities in the treatment of scoliosis, such as Pilates [9], stretching and massage [10], therapeutic exercises [11], orthotics [2], and ultrasound or electric stimulation [1]. The purpose of the present study is to investigate any possible benefits from combining manipulative and rehabilitative techniques from a randomized sample collected from various chiropractic facilities. Preliminary evidence [12] suggests that these procedures may be beneficial for reducing the curvatures associated with scoliosis.


A nonrandomized set of 22 patients participated in the study. The age range of the subject group was 15–65 years of age. The patients were selected from 3 different chiropractic facilities in the United States. Patients were evaluated according to their chief complaint at initial presentation. Patients were excluded from the study if neoplasm, malignancy, fracture, scoliosis secondary to genetic disorders, or previous arthrodesis were identified.

Each patient was examined radiographically for location and severity of scoliosis with standing anteroposterior full spine imaging. All patients removed their shoes for the imaging. Cobb angles were drawn on each radiograph to identify the degree of curvature present. A specific treatment plan was created based upon the results of each patient's radiographic measurements before and after a sample trial of the proposed clinical procedures. Initially, standing lateral cervical, nasium, lateral lumbar, and anteroposterior lumbopelvic views were taken. These views were taken to quantify forward head posture, cervical lordosis, lumbar lordosis, the sacral base angle, and the Cobb angle of the major lateral curvature. We decided to use the radiographic positioning and analysis outlined by Harrison et al [13-16], due to its previously published reliability. After these images were taken, each patient was fitted with a 4-lb anterior headweight. They were instructed to walk around with the headweight for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, a follow-up lateral cervical radiograph was taken while wearing the anterior headweight. The purpose of this lateral stress view is to evaluate the potential improvement in cervical lordosis and reduction in forward head posture from using these procedures [17,18]. The basis for this aspect of the protocol is based upon the inherent properties of a curved column. In the spine, lateral spinal displacements may occur when the normal sagittal spinal curves [19-22] are flattened, reversed, or accentuated. These curves are necessary for the overall strength and flexibility of the curved spinal column, according to the Delmas Index [23]. Therefore, the proposed treatment is intended to restore a normal cervical and lumbar lordosis, and reduce forward head posture before the scoliotic curvatures are addressed.

The specific manipulative and rehabilitative procedures used in this study are designed to both reduce the scoliotic curvature and theoretically retrain the involuntary neuromuscular, reflexive control of posture and balance. However, the specific neurological effects, if any, remain to be investigated. Some of the procedures have been separately introduced or tested [17,18,24-26].

The manipulative procedures included an upper cervical adjustment designed to mobilize the atlantal-occipital joint with the use of a percussive instrument. This technique is shown in Figure 1. This technique is delivered to patients whose lateral cervical radiographs demonstrated atlanto-occipital flexion. If atlanto-occipital extension was present on the initial lateral cervical radiograph, a -Z drop piece was used to mobilize the occiput into flexion. This is also shown in Figure 1. An anterior thoracic adjustment was administered with the patient's thoracic cage rotated opposite to the rotational displacement. A thoracic drop piece was also used to mobilize and correct the smaller upper thoracic curvature. Side posture lumbopelvic adjustments were delivered bilaterally to correct the rotational component of the pelvic misalignment. These side-posture manipulations were performed on a 30°-incline bench to help pre-stress the spine out of its existing scoliotic curvatures.

Certain traction procedures are also employed. These procedures are delivered using high-density foam blocks to pre-stress the spine into specific positions so ligament deformation and stress-relaxation can take place. Supine pelvic blocking was performed on each patient for 15 minutes. The position of the blocks was determined by each patient's pelvic rotation on radiograph and posture analysis. One block is placed under the iliac crest of the posterior ilium, and the other block is placed under the femoral head of the opposite, anteriorly-rotated ilium. Figure 2 illustrates the position of the pelvic blocks. The rehabilitative procedures, demonstrated in Figure 3, included the use of head, shoulder, and hip weighting devices. These devices may be used while simultaneously performing specific balancing exercises. These exercises include the use of a Pettibon Wobble Chair® and a Posturomed® [17]. Tjernstrom et al [27] showed that repeated performance of a postural alteration induces a long-term motor memory for achieving that novel postural position.

The position of the body weighting was also determined radiographically for each patient. Initially, hipweights and shoulderweights were applied according to each patient's posture analysis. Anteroposterior cervicothoracic and lumbopelvic views were taken while wearing the head and body weighting. Since changes in spinal position are not reliably seen by visualization [28,29], these stress radiographs were taken to confirm their corrective effects.

The attending physician treated each patient 3 times per week for the first 4–6 weeks. A total of 3 physicians performed the treatment intervention for all patients. However, each patient did not receive identical treatment at all visits. The physicians performed only those manipulative procedures that were deemed necessary based upon a visual posture analysis at the beginning of each treatment session. However, the rehabilitative procedures remained constant throughout the study for all patients.

Specific home care exercise programs were taught to each patient. These exercises were performed on a daily basis. Each patient was instructed to wear the head and body weighting twice daily for 15 minutes each time. Secondly, each patient was given a set of triangular foam blocks to lie on once daily for 20 minutes, immediately prior to going to bed at night. The foam blocks were positioned under the cervicothoracic and thoracolumbar regions simultaneously. Patients who failed to perform the home care more than 3 times were dismissed from the study. A total of 3 subjects were eventually dismissed, leaving 19 subjects to perform post-intervention evaluations.


At the conclusion of the trial period, a post-intervention radiographic study was conducted. The same anteroposterior full spine view was taken, and Cobb angles were again measured at the same vertebral levels. The average starting Cobb angle was found to be 28°, while the post-intervention Cobb angles measured an average of 11°, for an overall average reduction of 17°. Every patient made at least a 25% improvement. The largest improvement measured 33°, and the smallest improvement measured 8°. Table 1 shows the results of all 19 patients that followed through with the entire treatment plan. Figure 5 is a sample of the improvements made by a few of the patients.

(1) One of the main aims of Pilates exercises is to correct posture and improve balance. Part of yy interpretation of this report is that applying Pilates exercises for back pain, and correct posture, it can be benefitial for those who have scoliosis.


© 2004 Morningstar et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License

(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.



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