Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. While scoliosis can be caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, the cause of most scoliosis is unknown.
Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but some children develop spine deformities that continue to get more severe as they grow. Severe scoliosis can be disabling. An especially severe spinal curve can reduce the amount of space within the chest, making it difficult for the lungs to function properly.
Children who have mild scoliosis are monitored closely, usually with X-rays, to see if the curve is getting worse. In many cases, no treatment is necessary. Some children will need to wear a brace to stop the curve from worsening. If there is a scoliosis diagnosis there are exercises that can be performed at home, in addition to physical therapy.
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, should always consult with a doctor or physical therapist.
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 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.