A CLEAR option: Fargo chiropractor offers scoliosis patients an alternative to braces, surgery

Business profile What: United Health Chiropractic Where: 3213 14th Ave.
Tami Crist wears a weight on her right hip along with a weighted brace that helps force her to stand straight. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Business profile

What: United Health Chiropractic

Where: 3213 14th Ave. S., Suite 2, Fargo

Online: http://unitedhealthchiro.com; to learn more about the CLEAR Scoliosis method, visit www.clear-institute.org.

Contact: unitedhealthchiropractic@gmail.com or (701) 232-2662

FARGO - Christy Jelinek's daughter, Ashlyn, was scared to learn something was wrong with her when she was diagnosed with scoliosis in 2012.

And the 12-year-old was devastated when she was told the only thing she could do was wear a brace around her torso that went up to her chin.

"I thought medical technology had probably come a lot further than they were telling us," says mom Christy, 39, of Fargo.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, scoliosis affects 5 million to 7 million people in the U.S. It can start at any age but most often develops in youths ages 10 to 15, more commonly girls than boys.

A study published in last month's New England Journal of Medicine gives evidence that back bracing effectively slows the progression of scoliosis in adolescents, but bracing isn't for everyone.

Nor is surgery, typically involving a metal implant.

A doctor in Grand Forks recommended surgery for Kristi Fairfield's 17-year-old son, Alex, in 2009.

When the 40-year-old Fargo woman took to the Internet to research other treatment options, she came across the CLEAR Scoliosis Institute but was disappointed to learn the closest certified practitioner was in St. Cloud, Minn.

A year later, she checked the website again and noticed that a new practitioner in Fargo - Dr. Ryan Schroeder of United Health Chiropractic - was added to the list.

"There was his clinic, close to our home," Fairfield says.

Schroeder, who received his training at the institute in Dallas, says CLEAR Scoliosis treatment combines spinal adjustments, spinal strengthening exercises and postural rehabilitation.

The chiropractor, who opened his practice in May 2010, first became interested in working with scoliosis patients while on an interdisciplinary mission trip in Honduras.

He says scoliosis patients typically have other postural problems, like a forward head position.

"We can't fix the scoliosis, but if we're able to correct some of those postural alterations, we get amazing results," he says.

Schroeder says he could help people get even better results if they started treatment when their spinal curves are still in the 10- to 25-degree "watch and wait" range.

"I really believe if we were able to treat it sooner, we'd have much better success," he says.

Though it's taken time, hard work and dedication, his treatment stopped the progression of Alex's spinal curve, and he is no longer a candidate for surgery.

The Fargo senior is even able to play tennis and basketball.

"It was a blessing, all around," Fairfield says. "Alex may have had to have surgery because we couldn't afford to go to St. Cloud and spend time there."

CLEAR commitment

The Jelineks learned about Schroeder and the CLEAR method from a friend of a friend.

Knowing the commitment it required, they left the decision up to Ashlyn, who was 11 at the time of diagnosis, but she was willing to do what it takes.

"This therapy does not work unless the patient is willing to do the work," her mom says.

In the past 14 months (and through two growth spurts), she was able to stabilize the area of her spine that was causing the problem.

Schroeder says teens and preteens are advised to continue treatment through growth.

"Otherwise they have that higher risk of the scoliosis getting worse," he says.

His treatment has also given the Fargo girl a boost in confidence.

"I've seen her grow in her confidence, and I think that it took away the scariness of the diagnosis," Christy Jelinek says.

Katelyn Buss, 16, of Casselton, N.D., says the freedom she enjoys without braces or surgery is what keeps her committed to her nightly exercises.

"I can control it now. I can do the exercises, and I can get results," she says.

The high school junior, who's been going to United Health Chiropractic for a year, hasn't had to change her active lifestyle, which includes cheerleading for both varsity football and varsity boys basketball.

"Being able to stay active and do what I like to do without being restricted by more invasive methods was a big deal for me," she says.

Not all patients stick to their programs like Alex, Ashlyn and Katelyn.

When they "fall off the wagon," Schroeder says it's his job to try to re-encourage them. He advises parents not to hound them about it; they have to have the desire to do it themselves.

But, he says, "We know that if they do it some, it's going to be better than nothing."

Of the 40 acute cases he's treated to date, none have progressed to the point of surgery.

"When it comes to scoliosis, I do not believe putting rods into the spines of 14- and 15-year-old kids, oftentimes girls, is the most appropriate option," he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590