When my daughter Natalie was first diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis, I wasn’t just about to sit back and “observe”. As I talk about in this web series about treating scoliosis, we researched into alternative treatment methods for scoliosis, and one of the most promising ones was the CLEAR Institute. The CLEAR Institute takes a radically different approach to treating scoliosis than what mainstream doctors recommend. Here I will share our experience with the CLEAR Institute so you can decide whether it is right for you.
What Is the CLEAR Institute?
The Clear Institute is a nonprofit organization which has a certification program for doctors and chiropractors. They have developed their own method and protocols of treating scoliosis. CLEAR certified doctors follow the CLEAR methods, and are required to go to regular training and educational sessions to keep their certification.
I’ll let you visit the CLEAR Institute website to read their official “about” and info. But, in summary, what really makes CLEAR Institute unique is that they don’t advocate back bracing (which is still pretty much the only treatment used for scoliosis by mainstream doctors).
CLEAR doctors don’t use back braces in their program because they believe that bracing will weaken the same back muscles which they are trying to strengthen. However, the CLEAR Institute is quick to say that they aren’t against bracing (though they certainly don’t recommend it!). On their website, they say this about back bracing:
“On the other side of the coin, however, we readily concede that our specialty is not in orthotics, but in spinal biomechanics & postural rehabilitation. It is for this reason that, while we do not advocate bracing, we also do not condemn it.”
The CLEAR Institute Protocols: Mix-Fix-Set
CLEAR Institute doctors use protocols which are based on the principles of “Mix-Fix-Set.” Here is an overview of the protocols and what these principles mean for scoliosis treatment.
1. Precision X-Rays
The CLEAR doctors will take x-rays of the entire spine, not just the scoliosis. The idea is that the entire back is connected and that they need to understand the entire biomechanical function of the spine in order to correct it.
The idea here is to warm up the spine before treatment. Devices like the Active Rehabilitation Chair, Cervical Traction, and Vibrating Traction are used. One doctor describes the Mix component as “designed to induce cyclical motion and low frequency vibration into the ligamentous structures of the spine. By first unlocking the curvature of the spine through mixing, it allows the doctor a better opportunity for the specific adjusting protocols to take effect.”
This part of the scoliosis treatment uses instruments to assist in chiropracty. The doctor will put the loosened spinal structures into alignment.
Immediately after the Fix step, the adjusted spine must be set in place. To do this, the CLEAR doctor will often use weights on the head and hips. There are also other methods, such as special chairs and “gait therapy” which retrains how the patient walks, and home exercises.
5. Follow Up
Now more x-rays are taken to see how effective the realignment was.
Our Experience with CLEAR Institute
When we went to CLEAR Institute, Natalie’s scoliosis had already progressed to 46 degrees. There weren’t any CLEAR doctors in our area, and the treatments aren’t exactly cheap, so it was a big decision whether to try this protocol or not. We ended up finding a CLEAR doctor in Wisconsin, Dr. Dovorany, which seemed promising. We traveled there and did a 2-week bootcamp. I was working full time at the time and my boss was super understanding and let me work remotely for those couple of weeks.
During those 2 weeks, we went to the clinic every day for several hours, walking back to the hotel for lunch and again for several hours in the afternoon. Most of the time Natalie was actively doing exercises with short breaks in between, more (unavoidable) x-rays than I can count and plenty of chatting with the doc about next steps.
Some of the exercises we had Natalie doing were downright strange but we went with it.
This exercise (pictured below) required Natalie to stand on this Bosu ball over a vibrating plate with a custom “cantilever” Dr. Dovorany made for her from pvc pipe among other things with a weight and resist the weight for a certain period of time.
We were sent home with this cantilever and Natalie was told to do a minimum of 3 exercises per day for 3 months. At one point she was doing 5 per day which was the max they recommended she do.
Sidenote: this is one surefire way to get abs of STELL by the way 😉
Another exercise… A tough one to explain. I won’t attempt it.
And several other exercises not pictured…
Does It Work?
After the bootcamp and with the 3 months of 5x/day exercises, Natalie’s curve decreased from 47 degrees to 34 degrees in 3 months.
At that point we were ecstatic… hopeful… relieved. And majorly crossing fingers that surgery was avoidable.
Here is the problem: After that, Natalie went to Argentina to her grandmother’s house for 3 months (I’m originally from Argentina). They both promised she would do her exercises, but it turns out that she was only doing them 1 time per day – and my guess is she was only doing it occasionally. When we arrived there to pick her up we instantly saw the progression in her curve. By the time we had her x-rayed and measured it had progressed to 53 degrees!
As with anything, a program can’t work unless you do. So it is hard to tell whether the CLEAR exercises would have worked for her in the long run. I’ve seen the success that Dr. Dovorany has had with his patients, many of whom I spoke with before deciding to give it a go, and many more which I bonded with over long hours co-working in the waiting room of the doc’s office during those couple of weeks.
My biggest regret is not keeping Natalie home that summer so that we could act as her accountability to get the exercises done.
Natalie ultimately had to have scoliosis surgery (which I’m happy to say she recovered from beautifully) but that was what we were hoping to avoid. (post on scoliosis surgery coming soon- stay tuned).
Would I Recommend CLEAR Institute?
If you’re thinking about Clear Institute, would I recommend it? I think it’s definitely worth a shot to avoid surgery if at all possible. Ideally, don’t wait as long as we did. The smaller the curve the easier to reverse and/or prevent progressions.
That said, know that it is certainly not inexpensive, requires you to go to a Boot Camp for a few weeks, and you will also probably have to travel for it. Summers are their busiest times since kids are off school. If you’re going to give it a shot, do it sooner rather than later, and stay in the room to make sure your child or teen follows through.
Have you tried the Clear Institute for Scoliosis? What was your experience? Please comment below.