Katharina Schroth: Physical Therapist Pioneer

Katharina Schroth: Physical Therapist Pioneer

December 25, 2013

Many conditions that affect the back and spine are effectively invisible; the patient might be in severe pain or experience severe stiffness, but nothing can be told from simply looking at them that anything is wrong. This is not at all the case with scoliosis, which, depending on the severity, can have a dramatic appearance. Large curves of the spine can be very visible, and many who experience scoliosis can be concerned about the cosmetic implications of the condition as well as the physical symptoms.

The way that we approach and treat scoliosis has changed significantly over time. There have been great advances in non-surgical methods to address scoliosis, which is referred to as the Schroth method. Scoliosis is diagnosed when the curve of the spine deviates more than ten degrees from the norm, and curvature up to thirty degrees can now be reliably treated via a specific course of physical therapy. Those with more serious curvatures can experience great improvement using the same methods, though depending on the age of presentation and the degree of the curvature involved, not all scoliosis can be treated with only this type of therapy.

A laywoman who suffered from scoliosis developed the Schroth method. Katharina Schroth, born in 1894, had a moderate version of the condition, and though she was treated with a brace in her teens, her scoliosis was not fully corrected. Determined to find a better way, she began developing a series of exercises designed to improve scoliosis through effectively “mirroring” the disorder, overcorrecting the curve in the other direction through specific movements. She also incorporated posture exercises and breathing techniques.

By 1921, Katharina Schroth opened a small clinic in Meissen, Germany. She fought consistently for patient advocacy and for the efficacy of her program. After WWII, she moved to West Germany and reopened another clinic, continuing to work into the 1970s. The methods that Katharina Schroth pioneered are still in use today, including many of her treatment methods and classification system. Both her life and legacy have helped innumerable people with scoliosis.

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