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What are the Different Types of Scoliosis Exercises?

By Stephanie Taylor Christensen
Updated Feb 01, 2024
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There are several different types of exercises that can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with scoliosis, and the most common tend to include swimming, yoga, and certain targeted muscular stretches and twists. The goal is usually to elongate the spinal muscles and to improve flexibility in order to take pressure off of the spine. People who suffer from scoliosis often have a lot of back pain, and participating in certain exercises and sports can be an effective way to find some relief, even just temporarily. Patients are usually encouraged to talk to their medical care provider before getting started to get personalized advice on preventing strain and injury, but in most cases scoliosis exercises are encouraged. They are not a cure for the condition, though, and shouldn’t be used as a replacement for regular therapy or other medical care.

Swimming

Many experts recommend swimming for people who want to begin a scoliosis exercise regime. Simply being in the water is effective to some degree, since it shifts a person’s center of gravity and the water can displace a person’s weight in such a way that muscular tensions and tightness are almost instantly reduced. In terms of actually swimming, the most effective strokes are usually the sidestroke and the backstroke. If a person is new to water activity, it is usually recommended that he or she swim only as long as he or she can keep the proper form of each stroke in order to get the most benefit. People who are not strong swimmers may also find things like gentle water aerobics helpful.

Yoga

Some yoga practitioners specialize in scoliosis care and attest to its effectiveness, and modified yoga stretches and certain poses are also recommended by many medical experts. In general, the idea of practicing yoga as a method of holistic scoliosis therapy is centered on three goals: elongation of the spine, decreasing posterior rotation, and realigning the vertebrae. It is important for the exerciser to develop the proper leg, abdominal, and lateral strength both to relieve immediate pain and discomfort and to try to minimize future increases in spine curvature.

Elongation can be practiced through a simple asana, or yoga posture, called the “cat pose.” One should begin by kneeling on the ground on all fours, placing the hands below the shoulders and the knees below the hips. With an inhale, one should lift the head and tailbone to the ceiling so that the lower back becomes concave. When one is ready to exit the position, he or she will exhale to tuck the tailbone under, rounding and releasing the back. It is often recommended that this stretch be performed at least 10 times a day. Some studios offer therapeutic yoga classes or sessions for people with scoliosis or certain muscular issues, and when available these can also be helpful. Experts usually recommend practicing in these settings at least twice a week.

Individual Muscular Exercises

There are a number of stretches that patients can do to increase their flexibility and release tension, and most aren’t challenging. Decreasing the posterior rotation during scoliosis exercises can be important in order for a person to increase alignment and balance. One example of such a pose is the chair twist.

While seated in a chair with feet on the floor and ankles and knees together, one should place his or her hands on the back of the chair and inhale to slowly lengthen the spine. On the exhale, he or she will rotate the trunk into a twist, pressing the right hand into the back of the chair to create more rotation. The pose should be held for several inhale and exhale sequences, and then repeated on the opposite side. A person typically should practice these twists several times each day as part of a routine, usually one devised or recommended by a health care or physical therapy expert.

Risks and Precautions

Scoliosis exercises can help alleviate pain that may be associated with the curvature of the spine, but they are not themselves treatments for scoliosis and typically will not stop its progression. As a result, the severity of scoliosis and the effectiveness of exercise as a treatment typically depend on the individual. Patients are usually encouraged to view exercise as no more than complementary therapy, and it should be undertaken in conjunction with regular appointments and treatments.

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