The Best Exercises For Scoliosis
Scoliosis is a three-dimensional spinal deformity that causes the spine to rotate and curve laterally to one side. Depending on how severe the curvature is, it can cause pain and make it difficult to move. If you have scoliosis, you might worry that exercise will make your condition worse.
However, some exercises can actually help ease scoliosis-related pain and improve your posture, flexibility, and mobility.
However, that doesn’t mean you should do just any exercise. It’s important to find exercises that are beneficial for scoliosis. A doctor or physical therapist specializing in scoliosis treatment can help prescribe the right exercises for you. With that in mind, the following guide covers the best exercises for scoliosis patients.
Why Scoliosis Can Make Exercising Difficult
Scoliosis can make it difficult to exercise because the abnormal curve of the spine can cause pain and reduced mobility. This is an issue that typically affects most adults with scoliosis.
If you have scoliosis, you have to be careful about the types of exercises you do to avoid exacerbating your condition. The following are a few reasons why it can be difficult to exercise if you have scoliosis:
- Exercise targets a specific region of the body: If the exercises you do target the wrong area, you could end up doing more harm than good. For example, core exercises can be beneficial because strengthening your core takes pressure off your spine, but weight lifting can be harmful because it can result in additional compression and strain on your spine. You need to do scoliosis-specific exercises that target the right areas of your body to ensure that they are beneficial.
- Can trigger pain: If you’re not careful, extreme stretching (such as advanced yoga) and high-impact movement (such as running) can trigger pain from scoliosis. As a result, these types of exercises can be difficult – if not impossible – for you to do because they can exacerbate painful symptoms. Patients may already have breathing difficulties: In severe cases, scoliosis can impair breathing by compressing the lungs, making it difficult for you to do any exercises that require you to exert yourself, such as running. Therefore, it’s important to find exercises that don’t put the lungs in a compromised position.
- Movement may be hindered: Because scoliosis causes the spine to curve to the side, it results in asymmetry. Asymmetry can make it difficult for you to move your body in certain ways. For example, you may find it challenging to bend forward because your spine cannot move that way. Scoliosis also causes the spine to stiffen, contributing to a lack of mobility.
- Exercise may trigger progression: Certain exercises can trigger progression of the scoliosis (meaning that it can get worse), even if you have mild scoliosis. For instance, certain forms of dance, swimming, and gymnastics may increase the incidence of scoliosis and, as such, could also trigger further progression. It’s why you must speak with a doctor who specializes in scoliosis treatment to determine what exercises are best for you.
How Exercise Can Help Scoliosis
Even though some exercises can exacerbate scoliosis, you shouldn’t just forgo exercise completely. With the correct exercises and stretches, you can benefit from the following:
- Avoid surgery: The right exercises can help strengthen the muscles around your spine, increase spinal alignment, and improve breathing. Doing so can help you avoid the need for surgery by slowing the progression of scoliosis.
- Reduce symptoms: Specific exercises that target the muscles that support your spine can help reduce certain symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, and trunk asymmetry. For example, strengthening exercises can help ease the pressure on your spine, thereby reducing pain and fatigue.
- Slow down or stop the progression of scoliosis: Exercises that target the muscles around your spine can help slow down or even stop the progression of scoliosis. As mentioned earlier, strengthening exercises can help take pressure off your spine, which can prevent or slow the progression of the abnormal curvature of your spine.
- Improve muscular strength and endurance: Exercise helps to improve muscular strength and endurance by gradually increasing the load on the muscles. Doing so is important because it helps build up the muscles that support your spine.
- Improve breathing and lung function: Because scoliosis can cause compression of the lungs, improving lung function is essential. Certain breathing exercises help you improve breathing and lung function by expanding your chest and increasing the capacity of your lungs.
- Prevent spinal instability: Improving your core strength and the muscles that support your spine helps prevent spinal instability. If you don’t exercise, your spinal instability will increase as your scoliosis progresses.
Targeted Exercise Programs For Scoliosis
Exercise can be incredibly beneficial when it comes to reducing the effects of scoliosis and slowing the progression of the condition. However, not all exercises are appropriate for every person with scoliosis. As such, you should consult a doctor or physical therapist who specializes in scoliosis treatment to determine which exercises are best for you.
The following are a few of the targeted exercise programs for scoliosis that a doctor may prescribe to treat and manage your condition:
The Schroth method is a three-dimensional approach to treating scoliosis. Katharina Schroth, who developed the method, relied on mirrors to help patients build an awareness and understanding of their posture, which made it easier to correct.
This method can help improve pain, posture, core stability, core strength, breathing, movement pattern and function, and pelvis alignment. Exercises prescribed using the Schroth method are tailored to the patient’s individual needs and can be conducted in-clinic or at home to benefit patients of all ages.
The Schroth method prescribes exercises that address three main components of scoliosis: muscular symmetry, rotational angular breathing, and postural awareness. The exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles around your spine, improve your posture, and correct any muscle imbalances.
The approach also teaches you how to breathe into the concave side of the body, which helps open up the lungs and improve chest expansion.
The Schroth method is arguably the most popular scoliosis treatment program. It has also influenced many other types of scoliosis exercise treatment programs, partly because of its focus on postural awareness.
Scientific Exercise Approach To Scoliosis (SEAS)
SEAS is a physiotherapy-based approach prescribed to scoliosis patients with milder spinal curvatures. By focusing on self-correction and spinal stability, SEAS exercises can help eliminate the need for bracing by reducing the curvature of the spine.
However, SEAS is also commonly recommended in conjunction with bracing to help patients achieve the best possible results.
One of the unique aspects of SEAS is that the exercises are designed with functionality and compliance in mind. As a result, the SEAS method focuses on exercises you can perform in a physiological pose. This means that you should be able to perform these exercises in day-to-day activities such as sitting, standing, and walking.
This is important because it helps ensure that you will actually do the exercises, which is essential for achieving the best results. Exercises are prescribed with active self-correction in mind, which means that you can perform the exercises without external tools or artificial body positions.
The ultimate goal of SEAS isn’t to achieve the best spinal correction possible, but rather the best spinal correction possible that is usable as well as achievable in regular day-to-day life.
ScoliBalance is a psychotherapeutic exercise program specifically designed to treat scoliosis at any age. ScoliBalance uses a 3D approach tailored to the patient’s individual needs, incorporating various techniques including SEAS, Schroth, and Chiropractic BioPhysics (CBP).
In addition, the program includes postural awareness education and exercises that are conducted in-clinic as well as at home.
ScoliBalance exercises can help slow down or stop the progression of scoliosis, depending on the severity of the spinal curvature. It can also help improve muscular balance, increase spinal flexibility, reduce pain, and improve body posture.
The program is effective when used independently by patients with mild scoliosis, and can also be incredibly beneficial in combination with bracing in more severe cases.
The Dobosiewicz method, or DoboMed, is a more conservative approach for treating idiopathic scoliosis, focusing more specifically on treating respiratory function impairment and trunk deformity. DoboMed uses active 3D correction, which is a series of exercises and positions designed to improve the patient’s posture and correct the deformity of the spine.
The DoboMed approach can be prescribed independently or in conjunction with bracing methods. DoboMed is effective for any severity level; however, it’s not prescribed to children because cooperation is a basic requirement.
The Lyon program is an approach developed in France that combines exercise, bracing, and casting to stop the progression of scoliosis. The exercises focus on strengthening the muscles around the spine and correcting posture while avoiding spinal extension and flexion – as well as any exercises that result in shortness of breath.
In addition, an emphasis is placed on exercises that are completed before and while the patient is in a brace, thereby helping to promote muscular strength, endurance, and equilibrium. There is also an emphasis on patient education, to improve body awareness so patients can self-regulate and perform activities of daily living or play sports without exacerbating their condition.
The Barcelona Scoliosis Physical Therapy School (BSPTS) approach was developed using the basic principles of the Schroth method. It’s used primarily to treat adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) and certain forms of congenital scoliosis.
An integral scoliosis care model is used to customize treatment programs for each patient. This model includes education, observation, psychological support, and bracing. The Barcelona approach prescribes exercises as a therapeutic intervention meant to supplement bracing or surgery on a case-by-case basis and not as an alternative to either of those treatments.
It also provides 3D treatment based on the patient’s breathing and muscle activation. The BSPTS approach can help reduce spinal imbalance and improve back asymmetry in the short term.
The Best Exercises For People With Scoliosis
There are many different exercises that can help people with scoliosis. The following are a few effective individual exercises that a doctor may prescribe as a part of your scoliosis treatment plan.
Remember that the severity of your scoliosis will determine how many repetitions of each exercise you should do, how often you should perform them, and whether they are even appropriate for you.
1. Static Stretches
Static stretching can help to improve the flexibility of your spine and avoid surgery by keeping the muscles around the spine lengthened and relaxed. These stretches can help to prevent the progression of scoliosis and improve your quality of life.
However, you should only begin doing static stretches if you have been cleared by your doctor first. Your doctor will need to conduct a functional exam to determine if static stretches are appropriate for you and which ones will be most beneficial. Some common static stretches for scoliosis include the following:
The seated twist is a simple static stretch that helps lengthen the muscles in your neck, chest, shoulders, and back. Doing a seated twist properly will open up your hips, improve your posture, alleviate upper back and neck pain, and improve spinal mobility. Follow these steps to do this stretch:
- Sit on the floor.
- Extend your legs in front of you.
- Put your hands on the floor behind you.
- Bend your right knee.
- Place your right foot on the floor next to the outside of your left thigh.
- Raise your left arm.
- Twist your torso to the right and reach your left arm towards your right side. Your elbow should reach across the outside of your right leg.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side.
Hip Flexor Stretch
The hip flexors are a group of muscles that attach from the pelvis to the thigh. Scoliosis can cause the hips to become uneven, leading to pain or discomfort. The hip flexion stretch helps to lengthen these muscles, improving flexibility and range of motion in the hips. Follow these steps to do this stretch:
- Start in a lunge by stepping your right leg forward and placing your left knee on the floor.
- Make sure that your right ankle is in line with your right knee and your left ankle is in line with your left knee.
- Keeping your torso upright, lean forward until you feel the front of your left thigh begin to stretch.
- Maintain this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
Seated Butterfly Stretch
The seated butterfly stretch is an easy static stretch that targets your lower back, hips, and thigh muscles. Doing a seated butterfly stretch can help reduce scoliosis-related pain, increase flexibility and range of motion, improve your balance, and help improve postural awareness. Follow these steps to do a seated butterfly stretch:
- Sit on the floor.
- Make sure that the soles of your feet touch.
- Bend your legs and allow your knees to drop out to the side.
- Straighten your back to maintain good posture.
- Move your feet closer to you to increase the intensity of the stretch.
- Hold for 30 seconds or more before releasing.
2. Dynamic Exercises
Dynamic exercises focus on getting your muscles to move through the full range of motion. These exercises also strengthen the muscles around your spine to prevent the progression of scoliosis. Dynamic exercises can also help improve your quality of life by increasing flexibility and range of motion.
Your doctor will prescribe dynamic exercises based on the results of a functional exam. Some common dynamic exercises for scoliosis include the following:
Cat-cow is a dynamic exercise that helps to improve flexibility and range of motion in the spine. It can also help reduce pain and stiffness by lengthening and relaxing the muscles around the spine. The exercise also involves breathwork, helping to improve the function of your respiratory system as a result. Follow these steps to do this exercise:
- Start on all fours – put your hands right under your shoulders and your knees right under your hips.
- As you inhale, arch your spine and tilt your pelvis upward, letting your belly sag toward the floor. You should feel a stretch in your abdomen as you look up.
- As you exhale, round your spine and tuck your pelvis under. Let your head and tailbone drop to the floor. You should feel your back stretch as you activate your core.
- Repeat 10 times in each direction.
Pelvic tilts target your lower back muscles, helping to improve posture and alleviate pain. Because they can help gently stretch your lower back muscles, they are also effective at reducing stiffness. Pelvic tilts will also improve your abdominal muscles. Follow these steps to do this exercise:
- Start by lying on your back.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
- Flatten your lower back against the floor and tighten your abdominal muscles.
- Breathe in, then tilt your pelvis upward as you breathe out, rolling your hips off of the floor.
- Hold the position for five seconds.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
Arm And Leg Raise
The arm and leg raise is a dynamic core exercise that targets your hip flexors, lower back, and abdomen by engaging the muscles that stabilize the spine. This exercise also helps to improve your posture, relieve pain, and improve balance. Follow these steps to do this exercise:
- Begin on all fours – position your hands right under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Keep your back flat, then raise your right arm and left leg off the floor.
- Hold the position for five seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat the same exercise with your other arm and leg.
- Repeat 10 times on each side.
Bird-dog is a more advanced version of the arm and leg raise. The exercise targets your core, hips, and back muscles and helps improve core stabilization and strength. As a result, this exercise can help you relieve lower back pain and improve abnormal postures from scoliosis. Follow these steps to do this exercise:
- Start on all fours- position your hands right under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Keeping your back flat, raise your right arm and left leg off the floor so they are parallel to the floor.
- Bring your right elbow and left knee to touch underneath your body, then return to the starting position.
- Do five to 15 repetitions.
- Repeat on the other side.
3. Rotated Angular Breathing
The Schroth method uses a variety of exercises to improve the function of the respiratory and nervous systems. One such exercise is rotated angular breathing. This exercise helps improve your respiratory system’s function by teaching you how to control your breath.
It also helps to reshape your rib cage, which can reduce the effects of scoliosis on your body. To do this exercise, follow these steps:
- Position your body so that your spine is in a neutral position.
- Take a deep breath. Then exhale while rotating your torso to one side.
- Repeat the process on the other side.
By doing this breathing technique, you’ll push the ribs sideways and backward, expanding the ribs from inside the rib cage. This expansion helps return the vertebrae to their normal position. It encourages mobilization and flexibility, both of which help to release tension and improve posture.
4. Posture Awareness
Being aware of your posture can help improve your alignment and reduce the amount of strain on your body. Good posture helps evenly distribute your body weight, preventing pain and injuries.
Additionally, good posture helps improve your breathing and can increase your energy levels. Conversely, poor posture can put a substantial amount of strain on your body, resulting in muscle tightness and weakness.
Unfortunately, maintaining a good posture can be challenging if you have scoliosis. This is because the curvature of the spine can cause the body to lean to one side, making it difficult to stand or sit up straight. However, by practicing simple posture awareness exercises, you can help improve your alignment and reduce the amount of strain on your body.
One simple exercise for postural awareness is to focus on keeping your shoulders back and down. Doing so will help open up your chest and prevent you from rounding your shoulders forward.
Another exercise you can do is to focus on keeping your chin level with the ground. This will help to lengthen your neck and prevent you from tilting your head forward. By practicing simple posture awareness exercises, you can help improve your alignment and reduce the strain on your body.
H2: Do’s And Don’ts When Exercising With Scoliosis
Exercising with scoliosis can be beneficial if you stick to the exercises and stretches prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist. However, there are some guidelines to follow when exercising to avoid aggravating any symptoms. With that in mind, the following are a few do’s and don’ts when exercising with scoliosis:
The following are a few things you should do if you have scoliosis to get the most out of your exercises and stretches – and to prevent any issues from occurring:
- Consult a doctor or physical therapist: If you have scoliosis, you must speak with a doctor or physical therapist before starting an exercise routine.An experienced health professional will be able to show you the best exercises for your specific situation and make sure that you do not overdo it or put too much strain on your body. This is because doing the wrong stretches or exercises could worsen your condition.
- Stop when you experience pain or discomfort: Even if you’re sticking to the exercises and stretches prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist, you must listen to your body. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop immediately. Continuing to exercise through the pain can cause more pain and also result in serious injuries or lingering physical issues.
- Use other therapeutic strategies: Doing certain stretches and exercises can be very beneficial if you have scoliosis. But you should implement other therapeutic strategies as well to manage your scoliosis. For example, consider getting massage therapy and chiropractic treatment, and use ergonomic furniture that supports good posture.
When performing exercises and stretches, a few things can aggravate scoliosis pain. Be sure to avoid doing the following:
- Don’t bend your neck forward with your head facing downward: Also known as “text neck,” this position can worsen the effects of scoliosis. When stretching and exercising, keep your neck in line with your spine.
- Don’t repeatedly strain your torso: Avoid straining your torso in ways that puts added pressure on your spine, such as lifting weights overhead, swimming, or overextending your body while doing yoga.
- Don’t expose your spine to high-impact jumping or running: These activities can put stress on your spine and make scoliosis pain worse by jarring your spinal vertebrae. You may want to avoid rhythmic gymnastics and competitive dancing as well because of this. In fact, these activities can lead to a higher risk of scoliosis progression.
Exercise Is Possible With Scoliosis
When it comes to scoliosis, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to exercising. While some exercises may be fine for one person, they could cause pain or aggravate symptoms for another. It’s essential to be aware of both the risks and benefits of exercising with scoliosis. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist before starting a new exercise regimen.
Many people with scoliosis find exercises and stretches that work for them. In most cases, exercise can be beneficial for scoliosis and can improve your symptoms and posture by strengthening the muscles around your spine.
Want to try a specialized exercise program that can properly address your scoliosis? Learn how our rehabilitation and exercise program can help you!