Physical therapy exercises can help manage pain and discomfort caused by scoliosis.
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 more severe than others. In moderate to severe cases, scoliosis may be corrected through bracing and/or 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.
The following exercises may not necessarily be targeted toward your specific scoliosis diagnosis, but they are a good starting point to get you moving. Sometimes, these general strength and conditioning techniques are enough to reduce symptoms of mild scoliosis.
Step down and one-arm reach
- With whichever leg appears longer when you lie 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 knee in front to bend as you feel the weight shift onto it.
- As you shift your weight forward, raise the arm that is opposite of your front leg as high as possible.
- 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 front leg.
- Perform this exercise only on that side. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
Schroth exercises are asymmetric scoliosis-specific postural exercises that aim to improve posture and pain and to teach patients to consciously maintain the correct posture in daily living activities.
These exercises target endurance and strength training of the abdominal, back, and leg muscles.
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 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, 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.
Mild scoliosis is often managed simply with exercise, medical observation, scoliosis-specific physical therapy, and chiropractic treatment from a chiropractic scoliosis specialist. For some people with scoliosis, yoga or pilates 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 advanced 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 or physical therapist 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.