Scoliosis: Ahead of the curve

A spinal defect caused Newsnight's Madeleine Holt years of pain – she even wore a back brace on TV.

Then she found a radical new treatment. 'I have been on a seven-year back odyssey,' says Madeleine Holt, as she hangs from a set of wall bars to demonstrate her daily back exercises. "When I was 14 and diagnosed with scoliosis, I felt quite excited – I was special. But then later on, I realised what it really meant."

What it would mean for her was years of chronic neck pain, thousands of pounds spent searching for a cure and a whole year of wearing a brace round the clock – even on television for her job as Newsnight's culture correspondent.

Scoliosis – an abnormal curvature of the spine – affects three or four children in every 1,000. It gets worse with age and can be identified by the Adam's Forward Bend Test, which used to be common in school medical exams; the patient bends at the hips, with the feet together and the arms hanging down. The tell-tale sign of scoliosis is when one side of the back is higher than the other.

Scoliosis is more common in girls, who account for eight out of 10 cases; there is also a genetic link, with 25 per cent of sufferers having a relative with spinal curvature. The measurement of the curvature is called a Cobb angle, an angle of 10 per cent being mild and 90 per cent severe.

The traditional treatment for scoliosis is a back brace, which limits the angle of curvature, or, in more extreme cases, surgery to insert metal rods in the spine. The latter became more commonplace after the invention of the Harrington Rod, which was inserted into the back and fused to the spine, holding it straight. Although modern implants are more flexible and are extendable, surgery for scoliosis carries the same risks as any other.

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Then last December, Holt found out about a new clinic, called Scoliosis SOS in Suffolk, which offered the Katharina Schroth method, a physiotherapy-based set of exercises to "re-educate" the back muscles. Once they are taught the techniques, the patient must do half an hour a day of maintenance exercises.

Source - Independent

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