Scoliosis is characterized by an S- or C-shaped curve in the spine. It’s generally seen in childhood, but it can also come about in adulthood. Scoliosis in adults can occur due to a variety of reasons, including genetics, uneven pelvic position, past spinal or joint surgeries, knee or foot distortions, or even head injuries. Some curves are deeper than others. In moderate to severe cases, scoliosis is corrected through surgery. If you suspect scoliosis, you should consult your doctor about an appropriate treatment plan.
We spoke to Rocky Snyder, a personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist based in Santa Cruz, California, who suggested a few exercises for people with scoliosis, as well as stretches that may help improve dexterity.
The difference between a typical spine and that of a person with scoliosis, he explains, is that the former can move from side to side. For instance, when you walk, your spine bends and rotates left and right, ultimately reverting back to the center. People with scoliosis have a difficult time moving in one direction due to the curvature of their spine.
Two re-educational stretches
Finding new ways to move can help restore some of the imbalances of scoliosis, Snyder says. He suggests two ways to do this. One is to drive your body in the direction it is already bending to stretch even further. This can cause the muscle you are stretching to pull back and slightly shorten. Scoliosis affects the ability of the central nervous system to help muscles contract and shorten. “You need to stretch them further to bring them to a shortened state,” says Snyder.
The second approach involves doing the opposite: If your spine leans to your left, simply lean to the right. This method, Snyder notes, doesn’t seem to work as well. The stretches are meant to help muscles that have gone lax. “Imagine taking a rubber band and keeping it stretched for a long time and then letting it go,” he says. “It wouldn’t know how to shorten back up again.”
Three exercises for scoliosis
The following exercises are targeted toward people with scoliosis. Exercise is important for overall good health, although for people with moderate or severe scoliosis, Snyder recommends a doctor’s assessment first.
Step down and one-arm reach
- With whichever leg appears longer when you lay on your back, step onto a small box or step.
Lower the opposite leg down to the floor as you bend into the knee.
As you descend, raise the arm on the same side as the lowered leg up as high as possible. For example, if the left foot is lowering to the floor, raise the left arm.
Perform 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps on this side only. Do not perform the exercise on the other side.
Upward and downward dog
- In a prone plank position with your arms stretched out straight, push your hips back and up as far as possible.
- Hold this for 2 seconds, and then lower your hips back down toward the floor.
- Try to get as low as possible without giving yourself back discomfort or pain.
- Perform 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
Split stance with arm reach
- Step forward with the longer leg in front in a slightly exaggerated stride length.
- Keep your torso as upright as possible at all times.
- Begin shifting your weight back and forth, allowing the forward knee to bend as you feel the weight shift onto it.
- As you shift your weight forward, raise the arm that is opposite of your forward leg as high as possible to the sky.
- While that arm is reaching upward, reach the other arm back with the palm up as much as possible. This causes the torso and spine to turn toward the side of the forward leg.
- Perform this exercise only on that side. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
Types of scoliosis
Certain exercises may be prescribed by a physician or physical therapist to help you with your specific structural difference, but they are not a means for treatment. Treatment for moderate to severe scoliosis will most likely involve surgery.
Mild scoliosis, however, will usually not require significant medical attention and is not as visible to the eye as other posture disorders. Mild scoliosis is generally the term used to describe scoliosis where the Cobb angle, or curvature of the spine, is less than 20 degrees. Mild scoliosis is the most responsive to exercise treatment.
Moderate scoliosis may be treated with exercise too, but wearing a medically prescribed brace is sometimes recommended as well. Moderate scoliosis may develop into severe scoliosis, defined as a spine curvature between 40 and 45 degrees. Severe scoliosis usually needs to be corrected with spinal surgery.
Managing your scoliosis
Mild scoliosis is often managed simply with exercise, medical observation, and scoliosis-specific physical therapy. For some people with scoliosis, yoga is also recommended to decrease their pain level and increase flexibility.
Moderate scoliosis often involves bracing to stop the spine from curving further. Depending on the curvature of the spine, your doctor might recommend increased medical observation or other treatment methods.
Once the spine reaches a certain curvature, and once the person with scoliosis reaches a certain age, surgery becomes the most recommended treatment option. Surgery to correct scoliosis can take several forms and depends on a variety of factors, including:
- the way that your spine is shaped
- how tall you are
- whether or not other parts of your body have been severely impaired by the growth of your spine
Exercise is being recommended more and more as a treatment for mild to moderate scoliosis. By being proactive and performing these exercises, you may be able to slow the curvature of your spine and decrease the pain you feel as a result of your scoliosis. Pilates and yoga routines geared specifically toward those who have impaired spinal flexibility can also serve as a treatment to lessen pain. It’s important to always get the opinion of your orthopedist before beginning a scoliosis treatment regimen, even one that involves simple exercises. This ensures that you won’t be harming your skeletal system by performing these exercises.