Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies work alongside the treatment you are already getting from your specialist. It is important that before you start any complementary therapy you ask your specialist if they think it is right for you.

Complementary therapy is not the same as alternative therapy. Complementary therapies are used along with your usual treatment. Alternative therapy is used instead of standard treatment to cure or treat a health condition. There are companies and clinics in the UK that offer alternative therapy. Some claim that they can straighten curves or slow down their growth without bracing or surgery. Many of these practices are very expensive. We would advise you to be careful and ask for independent scientific evidence that the therapies work. Also please check with your doctor or specialist before undergoing alternative therapy to make sure it is safe for you and that the evidence does actually support it working. SAUK has many members who find complementary therapy very useful.

What is the Alexander Technique?

This is a system that retrains you to be more aware of your posture. It helps you to notice the bad habits you have picked up during your lifetime and helps you correct them. By doing this, teachers believe you can ease pain caused by poor posture and learn to move with less effort.

What are the benefits?

The idea of the Alexander technique is to improve postural muscle tone and
co-ordination. Those who practise it believe that people can re-learn how to move in ways that don’t cause muscle tension. Muscle tension may have been causing or aggravating pain and joint stiffness, and affecting mobility.

A large randomised controlled trial was published in the British Medical Journal in August, 2008. It showed that NHS patients with chronic or recurring back pain who took part in Alexander technique lessons reported a long-term (measured up to 1 year) reduction of days with pain, a measureable increase in the number of daily tasks they could do, and benefits in quality of life, compared with patients who received usual care from their doctor. Patients liked learning and using the technique because it made sense and because they could practise it while undertaking everyday activities or relaxing. Other preliminary research has suggested that lessons in the technique could be effective in a wide range of health-related conditions, including improving posture.

What are the disadvantages?

Practising this technique may relieve tension but it will not change bone problems. It can be expensive because teachers often recommend ten or more sessions.

How do I find a class/teacher?

If you’re thinking about trying the Alexander technique, it’s important to choose a teacher who’s experienced and qualified. In the UK, the main organisations for teachers of the Alexander technique are the:

You can contact these organisations or use their websites to find registered Alexander technique teachers in your local area.

What is Aquatic physiotherapy?

Aquatic physiotherapy is a form of treatment that uses gentle exercises in water. It should be undertaken by a physiotherapist who is qualified to recommend movements in the water and to make sure they are done properly.

As with all forms of treatment, it is important that you seek medical advice before taking part.

What are the benefits?

Aquatic therapy can help improve blood circulation, relieve pain, and relax muscles. It can also help with mobility because activities that aren’t possible to do on dry land can be done in water. Exercise against the resistance of the water can improve muscle strength, co-ordination, endurance, and balance.

What are the disadvantages?

All surgical wounds must be healed before entering the water. For those with poor mobility getting dressed/undressed can be difficult for a 30 min session.

How do I find a class/teacher?

Check with your GP, if you can access an aquatic physiotherapist through the NHS or visit Aquatic Therapy Association of Chartered Physiotherapists to find an instructor in your area

Heat is good for relieving muscle pain. It can be applied using hot baths and showers, steam rooms, hot water bottles, or heating pads. Cold treatments (cryotherapy) such as cold packs or ice massage can also help to combat pain. The heat or cold source should be applied to the painful area for 15 to 20 minutes for best results. Care should be taken not to use anything too hot or too cold because heat and cold can cause a blotchy red rash or cause burns to the skin. It is important to test anything before it is applied to the skin. Hot or cold objects should not be applied directly to the skin and should not cause pain or discomfort.

Hot and cold treatments provide a successful but temporary means of pain relief.

Curvature of the spine causes the muscles in the shoulders and around the spine to misalign, which can cause tension or muscle spasms. Massage therapy with a light, slow, circular motion with the fingertips or a deep and kneading motion that moves from the centre of the body outward toward the fingers or toes, can help to release some of this tension. A personal physiotherapist should be able to recommend an experienced practitioner of massage.


What is Pilates?

Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise that aims to strengthen muscles, especially the core (stomach and back muscles) to improve general fitness and wellbeing. Pilates has something to offer people of all ages and levels of ability and fitness.

What are the benefits?

Regular Pilates practice can help to improve posture, muscle tone, balance, and joint mobility, as well as help with back pain. It is important to remember that Pilates will help only to strengthen and exercise muscles, which can help to ease pain but will not reduce or slow the growth of a spinal curve.

What are the disadvantages?

Some people with scoliosis find they cannot do all the exercises. It is important to remember not to push yourself too hard, because doing so could cause injury and pain. Listen to your body and if something hurts then stop.

How do I find a class/teacher?

Please check with your specialist/GP that the class is right for you. There are Pilates classes held throughout the UK but not all Pilates instructors are qualified. You can check with the Pilates foundation to ensure you are in good hands. If possible it is best to choose private Pilates tuition designed for people with scoliosis.

What is reflexology?

Reflexologists believe that different points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face, or ears correspond with different areas of the body. The therapist will then use their hands to apply pressure to the feet, lower leg, hands, ears, or face.

The theory is that reflexology helps the body to restore its balance naturally helping to reduce tension, and improve mood and sense of wellbeing. Some studies have also suggested it can help to relieve pain.

There have been some positive research projects done with reflexology; however, there is no scientific evidence for reflexologists to make clinical claims of effectiveness.

What are the benefits?

Reflexologists say that after a treatment your tension may be reduced and you might feel relaxed. You might also notice yourself sleeping better and find your mood and sense of wellbeing improving. You may also find that other aspects improve too; however, this happens on an individual basis.

What are the disadvantages?

While reflexology is thought to reduce pain and tension for some people it doesn’t work for everyone. Reflexology is not regulated and therefore there are many people who can practice this who are not qualified – this can be potentially harmful. It is important to find a qualified practitioner.

Where can I find a reflexologist?

Visit the Association of Reflexologists to find a qualified reflexologist in your area

The Schroth method is a routine of intensive exercises that strengthen the muscles of the back. It is essentially a type of rigorous physiotherapy. The Schroth method is offered at private clinics. It is not usually available on the NHS and is very costly.

The programmes offered at these clinics can be a residential course of between 2 and 6 weeks. Following on from the course, participants are expected to continue with the exercises every day at home for any benefits to be maintained.

Keeping fit and active and doing exercise that strengthens the muscles of the back is recommended for people with scoliosis and can help with back pain. Yoga, Pilates, and swimming are also good for keeping the back muscles strong.

For people with a small curve the Schroth method can make the back look straighter because the back muscles are strengthened and so better support the spine. However, there is no reliable long-term evidence that the method can reduce the size or slow down the growth of a curve, as clinics sometimes claim. It is very important that those who undergo the Schroth method continue to see a scoliosis specialist.

SAUK has heard both positive and negative reports about the clinics. Our advice would be to talk to your scoliosis specialist about whether this method would be helpful for you or not. We recommend that if you use the method you should also act on the advice of and remain under the care of a scoliosis specialist.

If you would like to talk further about any aspect of scoliosis, SAUK is here to help; please call our helpline or contact us via post or using our e-mail address