Scoliosis – an “S”- or “C”-shaped curve –is generally seen in childhood, but it can also come about in adulthood. Scoliosis in adults can arise 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, and in moderate to severe cases, the means to correction is 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 moves left and right, ultimately reverting back to the center. “People with scoliosis can bend only in one direction, and are unable to access movement in the opposite direction,” he explains.
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 that have more than mild scoliosis, Snyder recommends a physician’s assessment first.
Step Down and One Arm Reach
- With whichever leg appears longer when you lay on your back, step on to 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 two to three sets of five to 10 reps on this side only. Do not perform the exercise on the other side.
Up and Down Dog
- In a prone plank position with your arms stretched out straight, push your hips back as far as possible.
- Hold this for two 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 two to three sets of five 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 two to three sets of five to 10 reps.
Certain exercises may be prescribed by a physician 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.