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Straight from Michigan Lititz doctor one of few in U.S. to offer breakthrough treatment for curved spines
GARY P. KLINGER Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
For many years, those afflicted with scoliosis have had few options for dealing with the debilitating pain caused by the progressive onset of the disease.
But advances in research have allowed a local doctor to make significant inroads in the treatment and even reversal of the disease which is characterized by the curvature of the spine.
The National Scoliosis Foundation reports that scoliosis occurs in 2 to 3 percent of the population. Scoliosis occurs when the spine of the back forms a C-or an S-shaped curve. Most cases of scoliosis begin when the patient age range is 9 to 15, and they are often diagnosed at sports physicals or back-to-school check-ups. It occurs equally in males and females, although females are eight times more likely to progress to a spine curvature that requires treatment.
A new treatment is available thanks to the efforts of Dr. Clayton Stitzel at the Lancaster Spinal Health Center, 504 W. Orange St. in Lititz.
Often, those diagnosed with scoliosis have three options – endure the pain, wear a rigid back brace, or have spinal surgery to correct it. Stitzel’s new treatment is called a Scoliosis Activity Suit, and it provides an alternative for patients. Each Scoliosis Activity Suit is custom made for each patient and is a reactive rehabilitation device that reverses scoliosis curves as part of a treatment plan that includes therapeutic exercises. The suit is made in Midland, Mich.
Those who suffer with scoliosis know that quite often the pain can become unbearable, rigid back braces are generally ineffective and surgery is often a radical option. The key to effectively reversing scoliosis is finding it early in life, says Stitzel, before all skeletal growth has been complete.
There are a few symptoms parents can look for that might indicate their child has scoliosis. Those would include one shoulder that is higher than the other shoulder, a rib that sticks out, one leg shorter than the other leg and the presence of back, hip and/or leg pain.
"The Scoliosis Activity Suit can be worn in a reactive manner in which the patient only wears it 10 to 15 minutes several times a day, or a supportive manner in which it can be worn as much or as long as necessary," said Stitzel. Further, he notes that the Scoliosis Activity Suit is not a stand-alone therapy and further treatments in his clinic are necessary to reduce the scoliotic curves of patients. Generally, patients using the SAS need to be committed to wearing the suit 2-3 times per day. Completely non-intrusive, the SAS can be worn under clothing and generally only needs to be worn at home.
The Lancaster Spinal Health Center offers a free 15-minute telephone consultation to see if a scoliosis patient would be a good candidate for the treatment. If the patient is determined to be a good candidate, then the next step is a first appointment.
"The first appointment is generally a data collection visit, in which the patient is interviewed, previous x-rays reviewed, and any additional x-rays are taken. The new x-rays are evaluated and a treatment plan, if appropriate, is presented to the patient and parents, including all viable treatment options, at the next appointment time in order to allow all relevant parties to make a truly informed scoliosis treatment decision," Stitzel said.
So far, he has used the new SAS with seven of his patients who have come to his practice from several states away.
"My patients haven’t been using it long enough to determine effectiveness, but a one-year study conducted by the developer of the Scoliosis Activity Suit (SAS) indicates very encouraging results," he said.
Asked if there are any curves considered too severe to benefit from this new therapy, Stitzel said curve flexibility is probably the best indicator of how well the SAS will aid in reducing the spinal curvature, with more flexibility resulting in better correction.
"The SAS can be used ‘reactively’ to cause the curvature to reduce in small to moderate curves, and used ‘supportively’ in larger curves, so the SAS can be use in almost all cases, but with different intent and application," he added. "Older patients tend to have less flexible curves, so curve reduction is less likely, but many can achieve considerable pain reduction."
The Scoliosis Activity Suit is unique in how it helps correct the curvature of scoliosis in the spine, Stitzel elaborated.
"Unlike conventional bracing where a force is applied to push the spine into a more corrected position, the Scoliosis Activity Suit causes the body to resist the force applied by the suit to cause an automatic, reflexive self-correction of scoliosis," he explained. "In doing so, the Scoliosis Activity Suit retrains the neurological recruitment of the postural spine muscles to better coordinate posture and movement, resulting in better spinal stability. As this process is repeated daily over time, the brain creates a new mental picture of how the spine and posture should be, and therefore the postural changes become automated. It is at this point and only at this point, that improvements in scoliosis measurements may be considered lasting."
The Lancaster Spinal Health Center in Lititz is one of five clinics in the country using the suit, which was developed by Dr. Mark Morningstar in Grand Blanc, Mich. The suit has been continuously tested and improved by a member of the jointly owned company, Spine I.Q., which holds the majority of the patent for the Scoliosis Activity Suit.
Stitzel’s treatments are done outpatient in his office, and patients can return to school, work or household activities after receiving care.
"The Scoliosis Activity Suit really does represent a significant leap forward in the treatment of scoliosis. Keeping in line with the most current understanding of treating the condition as primarily a neuro-hormonal condition with the spinal curvature being the primary symptom of the condition rather than the whole condition itself, the SAS is truly a reactive rehabilitation device that can actually help patients begin to reverse scoliosis curvatures as part of their overall treatment efforts," he added.
The cost of the suit is $1,400. However, the good news is that most insurance companies cover that cost as part of a basic policy benefit. Stitzel noted that several have covered 100 percent of the costs. And while Stitzel’s main practice is chiropractic, he said there is reason for hope.
"Many insurance companies have separate chiropractic benefits from orthopedic benefits, but that is largely dependent on the individual policy," he explained.
Stitzel is a Lancaster County native, graduating from Manheim Central High School. He received his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Penn State University in 1998. He graduated in 2002 with a doctorate in chiropractic medicine from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. While attending Palmer, he received research honors and was inducted into the school’s research fraternity. He has lectured across the United States and internationally in Singapore and England on the diagnosis and treatment of scoliosis. He is a Fellow on the International Chiropractic Scoliosis Board, and he has provided professional chiropractic care in Lititz for 11 years.
On a personal note, this is the last story for this correspondent, Gary P. Klinger, before he undergoes significant surgery at Johns Hopkins University to address his own scoliosis. This is his second surgery. In a prior surgery in 2002, Klinger had two portions of his spine fused. Over time, his scoliosis progressed in the five vertebras which remained un-fused to the point where those vertebras became worn and his entire spine was unstable. As a result, his pain level has increased significantly over time, leading to this new surgery on Oct. 14. This time around, the old hardware will be removed, the old fusions broken and the majority of his spine re-fused. While he was on restricted duty for six months in 2002, this time doctors are confident they can have him back to his full-time job as well as working as a freelance correspondent in as little as three months, with full recovery taking 6 to 12 months.
For more information on the Scoliosis Activity Suit, call Dr. Stitzel at The Lancaster Spinal Health Center at 627-3009. Gary P. Klinger welcomes your questions and feedback via email at email@example.com.
More SCOLIOSIS, page A15