In a three-year research case study of a young girl, scoliosis responded dramatically to Deep Tissue Therapy and Chiropractic Treatment.

By Erik Dalton, Ph.D.

She was 13 when Amy’s mother brought her to me for clinical treatment in 1993 . Extremely self conscious of her curvature, she would neither look me in the eye nor disrobe down to her undergarments to allow her mother and I to examine her scoliotic deformity. I was pessimistic about how much help I could offer after observing her gait and other aberrant movement patterns. But the very first test I performed through her sweatshirt quickly triggered that Amy could possibly be a good candidate for deep tissue manual therapy.

scoliosis girl backTypically, the degree of scoliosis demonstrated in Amy’s structure (Figure A) would indicate facet tropism (remodeling of the bony ribs, vertebrae, intervertebral discs). She presented as a classic picture of structural scoliosis where deformity of bones and soft tissues had distorted her structure to a point that massage manual therapy seemed of little help. But as I ran her through some typical motion tests, I found it possible to straighten some of her thoracic curve by passively side bending her to the right and rotating her left, both in standing and sitting. This alerted me to the possibility of, at least, some degree of reversible functional scoliosis contributing to her pronounced S-curve. Interestingly, during her interview, her mother confided that Amy had long ago developed a daily routine of hanging by a bar with her left arm hoping to straighten her embarrassing curve. Amazingly, that simple daily ritual may have been the reason Amy was able to maintain rib and facet joint mobility and hydration in her discs.

Obviously, Amy had developed some remodeling of the discs at the thoracolumbar junction–that would prove to be the challenge. I had a chiropractic buddy x-ray her to confirm if there were any true leg length discrepancy before beginning pelvic balancing. As shown in the photograph, she still needs some work in the lower extremity.

In the beginning, Amy was taken through a modified Rolfing® “Ten Series” focusing on how changes made to her legs relieved pressure at her ankylosed T-12/L1 thoracolumbar junction. Notice how the right knee had to be brought into mild hyperextension to relieve lumbopelvic strain.

Given Amy’s description of the onset of her scoliosis, she may have suffered a mild polio-type episode rendering her partially paralyzed on the right side of her body. One year prior to the first sighting of the scoliotic curve, she had experienced a severe whole-body infection that left her partially paralyzed on her right side. Initial palpation revealed increased neuromuscular facilitation in the deep muscles on the opposite (concave) side of the curve which seems to follow Davis’s Law.*

Hypertonicity and adhesions were particularly hard to release in her quadratus, erectors, and obliques on the left. Although there was apparent tightness in the right psoas, rhomboids, trapezius, and posterior deltoids, they responded easily to deep tissue work and assisted stretching techniques.

This suggests that their primary function may have been to hold the dysfunctional pattern rather than being instrumental in it’s creation ( See Figures 2: B & C below )(Fig. 2). The resulting muscle imbalance patterns that emerged in Amy’s body presented an unusual scoliotic case where a strong functional component was hidden in her primary structural scoliosis.


Since the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems are embedded in the psoas, the psoas is frequently the first muscle to be affected by bacterial or viral attacks such as Amy’s. As the muscles atrophied and overstretched on the paralyzed side, reciprocal inhibition shortened the concave side. Thus the battle begins between the group who will have dominance in creating her asymmetrical curve. Surprisingly, the psoas often loses this battle because of its susceptibility to facet dysfunction at critical “cross-over” junctions, particularly at T-12/L1.

After the first of almost three years, I brought in a wonderful 86 year old chiropractic friend and mentor to help with the chronically locked facet joints in Amy’s curve. Doc Atwater had been an original instructor at the second Chiropractic college founded in America, here in Oklahoma City. He saw her about nine times, and we worked as a team in several instances. Just a-stretchin’ and a-poppin’! His primary job was to open and close dysfunctional joints too adhesive for the Myoskeletal methods to be effective. High velocity thrusting procedures were needed to help mobilize those fibrotic and calcified joint capsules. Manual procedures to release Amy’s abdominal and pelvic diaphrams were beneficial in opening up the front side of her body.

* Davis’s Law states: “If muscle ends are brought closer together, the pull of tonus is increased, which shortens the muscle (and may even cause hypertrophy).”