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The Benefits of Massage Therapy for Scoliosis

Published September 20, 2019
| Written By BackerNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Jerry Nichols, MD

Scoliosis is an abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine. One of the most common types is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, which affects children and teens 10 years of age or older. Scoliosis can also occur in infants (congenital) and older adults (degenerative).

Treatment options for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis include observation for less severe curves, and bracing or surgery for larger curves. Physical therapy may also be used for small to moderate curves, including techniques such as the Schroth method.

Massage therapy and other manual therapies are less common treatments for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. However, massage offers several benefits for people with scoliosis, such as relaxing the muscles, increasing joint mobility, and reducing pain. Scoliosis massage may work best alongside other treatments such as physical therapy, at-home exercises or bracing.

Massage Therapy for Scoliosis

In general, massage offers several benefits for people with and without scoliosis, such as:

  • Increases blood flow to the muscles and tissues
  • Stretches tight areas of the body
  • Relieves pain
  • Enhances mobility
  • Promotes better sleep

Manual therapy for scoliosis includes massage therapy and physical manipulation techniques, such as chiropractic manipulation and spinal traction. Massage therapists sometimes use multiple techniques in the treatment of scoliosis. They may also provide people with exercises to do at home.

There are several types of massage techniques for scoliosis, including:

  • Swedish massage: One of the most common types of massage, involving kneading, tapping, long strokes, and shaking motions.
  • Deep tissue massage: Stretching, deep tissue work, and neuromuscular therapy to increase the flow of blood to muscles and tissues, and lengthen tightened areas.
  • Myofascial release: Focuses on opening up stiff areas in the tough membranes that wrap around and support the muscles.
  • Cranial-sacral therapy: Helps to balance the spine and improve a person’s overall function by mobilizing restricted tissue within and around the spine.
  • Thai yoga massage, also known as Thai massage for scoliosis: A dynamic bodywork therapy based upon yoga and Ayurveda that is done fully clothed.


Does Scoliosis Massage Work?

Only a small number of clinical studies have looked at the benefits of massage for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Most of these involved one or a few cases, so the results should be viewed with some caution.

These studies used several different types of massage, including soft tissue massage, myofascial release and deep tissue massage for scoliosis. Some also used chiropractic or spinal manipulation, spinal traction, electrical stimulation of the muscles, or at-home exercises.

The length and number of treatment sessions used in these studies varied. Several studies included two or three sessions a week for six to 12 weeks. One included 10 months of home care rehabilitation after the initial massage period.

These smaller studies found several benefits of scoliosis massage, including:

  • pain relief
  • increased range of motion
  • reduced scoliosis curve

In addition, one small randomized trial looked at the benefits of chiropractic manipulation. The study compared this method to standard medical treatment such as observation or bracing. The benefits of chiropractic manipulation included:

  • reduced scoliosis curve
  • lower pain levels
  • improved self-esteem, physical activity and mood

Another randomized trial of osteopathic manipulation found that it was not effective for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.

All of these studies looked at the benefits of massage and other manual therapy for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Massage may not be appropriate for other types of scoliosis or for people with medical conditions such as herniated discs, nerve damage, osteoporosis, or heart conditions.


Conclusion

A few clinical studies have found that massage and other types of manual therapy may help reduce the scoliosis curve. Since these studies are small, it is difficult to know if massage will work for everyone with scoliosis.

However, massage and manual therapy are known to decrease pain, increase joint mobility, and help relax the muscles. So regular massage could help people with scoliosis feel better overall. It may also make it easier for people to stick with their at-home exercises for scoliosis by reducing pain and increasing their joint mobility.

More research is needed to know the benefits of massage and other types of manual therapy for scoliosis. Right now, these methods are best used alongside other treatments that have been shown to work for scoliosis, such as bracing or physical therapy.

Updated: September 23, 2019

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Contributors and Experts

Jerry Nichols, MD is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with Carilion Clinic.
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