Physical therapist Cindy Marti presses against the length of Allison Yentz’s spine with her hands as the lanky 13-year-old stretches her arms overhead.
Together they move through motions that will hopefully prevent the long-term effects of Allison's scoliosis, a disorder that causes an abnormal curvature of the spine or backbone.
The soon-to-be high school freshman was diagnosed by orthopedist Dr. Channing Tassone last year after being referred following a routine exam by pediatrician Dr. Amy Stolarski. Since then, her parents, John and Mary, have been bringing her to Spinal Dynamics of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa to meet with therapists certified in a promising treatment.
Marti, owner of Spinal Dynamics of Wisconsin, 2300 N. Mayfair Road, said hers is one of a few clinics in the nation that offers the treatment, with promises that early physical therapy intervention under the Schroth method will help Allison avoid surgery, a more common treatment.
The Schroth treatment is based upon the principle that scoliosis has a postural component that can be improved by altering the forces that act upon the spine.
Patients are trained to expertly perform exercises specific to their scoliosis curve pattern to improve their postural deformity and wear a conforming, custom-made brace that allows for expansion and compression in areas of the torso.
Allison shows no deformity and, in fact, her long, lean stature and straight ballerina posture make it look like she is ready to take center stage in Swan Lake rather than being treated for scoliosis.
She does her exercises daily and attends the clinic about once a week. She wears a brace known as the Rigo-Cheneau brace, with padding to create pressure points against the areas of her spine that appear more collapsed.
The brace is different than what has commonly been known as the "Milwaukee brace," which most children wore in earlier years and even today. The Milwaukee brace is a full metal brace that stretches the spine by elongating the neck and providing support under the chin, keeping the patient in a rigid position. Allison's brace is meant to work with the Schroth treatment system.
Onset in childhood
A normal spine has curves when looking from the side, but it should look straight when looking from the front. People with scoliosis develop additional curves to either side, and the bones twist on each other like a corkscrew.
Scoliosis is about two times more common in girls than in boys. It can be seen at any age, but it is most common in children 10 or older.
In general, curve progression for scoliosis patients begins in childhood, and surgery, while an effective method of improving deformity, has significant risks, including creating a rigid straight spine, Marti said.
Trying to reverse symptoms
Marti said the results of the Schroth treatment inspired her and her therapists, who are 2005 graduates of the first Schroth certification class taught in the United States.
"There is great evidence that exercise-based approaches can be effective to reverse the symptoms and signs of spinal deformity," she said.
"The younger the patient finds out and the sooner they start therapy, the more likely it will be (that) they can prevent progression of the curve."
Allison has grown more than 3 1/2 inches in the last year but because of the intense therapy, has seen only a 5-degree curve in her spine.
Without therapy, at Allison's age and onset, the risk of progression would have been 100 percent, Marti said.
Allison said she has worked the exercises into her routine and her father has even built a ladder in their home like the kind in the clinic to help with her routine.
She stands tall after her session and said she is accustomed to wearing the torso brace 23 hours every day.
There will come a time, Marti said, when her body stops growing when she will not have to wear the brace.
Her friends have been supportive, but Allison said she looked forward to a special scoliosis screening at her school held the week of June 9 - June was declared National Scoliosis Awarenss Month by the U.S. House of Representatives. During the screening, her friends and others learned more about the effects of the disease and the importance of early detection.
Spinal Dynamics has worked with Wauwatosa schools to organize screenings at both Whitman and Longfellow middle schools during physical education classes.
The Wauwatosa School District has had scoliosis screenings in its schools, but never on a consistent basis.
Although 21 states have mandates or recommendations for scoliosis screenings, Wisconsin does not, so most schools in the state do not offer routine screenings.
For information, contact editor Susan Nord at (262) 446-6642.
BY THE NUMBERS
Scoliosis has long-lasting painful effects for patients if diagnosis is not made early or therapy started during adolescence.
people in the U.S. are affected
by scoliosis; there is no cure
10 to 15
primary age of onset
patients will undergo
spinal infusion surgery
children will be put into a brace
Source: National Scoliosis Foundation
1963 - scoliosis screening in schools started in Aitken, Minn.
1973 - Minnesota pioneers voluntary scoliosis screening in schools
2003 - Because of diminished screening in schools, 21 states enacted legislation for scoliosis screening in schools, 11 states recommended school screening with legislation and the rest either had voluntary screening or none at all. Wisconsin has no mandates requiring scoliosis screening in the schools.
WHAT: offers free weekly scoliosis screenings by appointment on Saturdays between 8 and 8:30 a.m.
WHERE: 2300 N. Mayfair Road
PHONE: To make an
ALSO: The clinic also
offers free group, school
and community screenings.
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