This blog is part of the Analyzing Scoliosis series, which is designed to teach movement practitioners how to work confidently with clients who have scoliosis. To start at the first post in the series, go here. My book, Analyzing Scoliosis, which covers the topics in this series in more depth (as well as others), is available on Amazon.
What is a scoliometer? Why should I use one? How do I use one? These might be some of the questions floating around in your head. I can answer them.
A scoliometer is used to tract a client’s rotation and is the most valuable device is my toolkit. It is a simple device that looks like a curved level and determines the degree of rotation (not the Cobb Angle) in the scoliotic back.
Research shows that one’s Cobb Angle (measured by an x-ray) and vertebral rotation (measured by a scoliometer) are positively correlated. Meaning, if you measure a back with a scoliometer before and after a lesson and notice a decrease in degree, you can deduce that your client’s scoliosis likely got a little straighter. Tracking scoliometer readings over time is a great way to make sure you are helping, not hurting, your client’s scoliosis. It is also a great way for people with scoliosis to track how their activities are affecting their scoliosis.
I use a scoliometer at the beginning and end of every lesson because it gives me immediate feedback on the current state of my client’s scoli, and when done longterm, a normal range for their scoliosis. The spine is constantly reacting to the stressors of daily life, so measuring before a lesson begins helps me see if my client’s spine is more or less rotated than usual. A spine (unfused) has the ability to shift, and it will with strategically planned exercises. Therefore, I can use the starting scoliometer number to plan out what the client’s spine needs that day.
I need you to know the goal isn’t to get the scoliometer to zero. It is regular use so you can establish a normal range for a client. Then, when the numbers are outside the norm, you make adjustments. For example, if I see a starting number trending higher, I suggest other therapies (like myofascial or neuromuscular massage) to calm their scoli down. Or, if an ending number isn’t within their normal range, I suggest at home exercises to further untwist their spine. Long term, you can deduce what may cause a spine to get better or worse.
I have a high school client that I’ve seen for years. I know her baseline range and have been able to spot some trends that cause her to be outside her range. When she’s menstruating or it’s exam time, her rotation will be three to four degrees higher than her norm. During school breaks or when she has done other therapies (like yoga, Pilates, acupuncture, or structural integration therapy) her rotation is two to three degrees below her norm. These measurements are easy to collect, and over time, they turn into valuable data that your clients can use to better manage their own scoli within their lifestyle.
Finally, scoliometer readings give you quantifiable data that your Pilates lessons are helping your client. It’s amazing what this does for your confidence. You, your clients, and your clients’ parents can immediately see the state of the scoliosis—any guessing is taken out of the equation.
Scoliometer app and tracking chart
I used a physical scoliometer for years. It was about $50. I needed it every time I worked with a client, and sometimes I’d forget it. That got really frustrating and led me to create Scoliometer by Spiral Spine, an app (iPhone & Android) that turns your phone into a scoliometer. For a few bucks you’ll have a scoliometer with you at all times, until you forget your phone somewhere ;).
Here is a blank Scoliometer Tracking Chart to track a client’s scoliometer measurements. Keep several of these printed, so you can start tracking measurements when a new scoli client comes in.
How to use the scoliometer app
- Have your client stand up straight with their back to you.
- With the scoliometer app open, hold the phone sideways with your thumbs under the outside bottom corners and fingers on top, (like you’re holding a hamburger).
- Place your hands and the phone at the bottom of your client’s neck with their spine in the middle of the phone. Wait until the phone is level, showing a zero-degree reading.
- Have your client slowly round their back, bending forward with their hands reaching toward the floor.
- Apply even pressure with your thumbs on both sides of the rib cage and move the phone down their back, keeping their spine in the middle of the phone. Note the highest measurements on the scoliometer as you bring it down their back. If your client has multiple curves, you’ll have multiple scoliometer readings to remember and write down.
- Write the highest number associated with each of their curves on the Scoliometer Tracking Sheet.
I hope I’ve convinced you to regularly use a scoliometer with all your clients. Stay tuned for the next post in this series which covers how to work the scoliometer information into a lesson plan.