Scoliosis Exercises: Working Out With Back Issues
What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine and in most cases develops just before hitting puberty. In most cases, the scoliosis is mild and does not require any type of treatment, and can be handled fairly well in day-to-day life.
Moderate or severe cases can cause serious issues with organ function, such as breathing, and therefore require treatment using a brace or surgery.
Effects of Scoliosis
In all cases of scoliosis, people will definitely experience increased levels of fatigue and back pain. The unnatural curve of the spine will always make movement a little more difficult.
As an analogy, imagine a bicycle where the front wheel is ever so slightly bent.
As this wheel rotates around, the bent portion of the wheel makes contact with the brakes and slows the bike down, requiring more input from the rider.
The bicycle still functions fine but is mechanically a little less efficient. The extra input required from the rider is equivalent to the fatigue and discomfort felt in mild cases of scoliosis.
Moderate or Severe cases of scoliosis require more invasive procedures to tackle the issue and exercise may just exacerbate the issue. Always consult a medical professional when performing any sort of physical endeavor when dealing with such a condition.
To help deal with mild scoliosis, building up strength in your lower back and core will greatly help reduce fatigue and pain. Building up strong muscles can mitigate some of the discomforts of living with scoliosis and help align the spine in the correct position.
Even in mild cases of scoliosis, it is important to consult a medical professional to get the “all-clear” for exercising. Now, let’s take a look at a couple of movements and exercises that will help you manage your mild scoliosis pain and fatigue.
This is a beginner-level exercise that will target your abdominals, and lower back.
The pelvic tilt exercise is a very subtle spinal movement that strengthens the support muscles around the lower back, especially around the abs.
The exercise can be done in several different ways including laying on the floor, standing back to the wall, on all fours, or seated on an exercise ball.
Pelvic Tilts are a great place to begin for those looking for pain relief through exercise for the first time.
I will explain the supine version which is the most appropriate choice for everyone and is the most basic variation to a set of more complex movements. To perform the Pelvic tilt you need to lay on a firm bed, preferably an exercise mat, or even the floor.
The idea is to remove the space between the natural curve of your spine and the floor by pushing or tilting your pelvis. A common visualization method is to imagine a bowl of water as your pelvis and when performing the action you would spill the water from the bowl onto your belly.
- Laying flat on your back with the soles of your feet on the ground and your knees bent will be your neutral position. In this position, there is space between your lower back and the floor.
- While exhaling, tilt your pelvis towards your stomach and you should feel your lower back coming in contact with the floor.
- Stay in this position for a few breaths and when ready, inhale and return to the neutral position.
- Repeat for 6-12 reps or as required.
Strengthening the lower back can be a difficult task and this exercise is maybe the least pleasant but one of the most effective ones on the list.
To perform an Arm/Leg Raise perform the following steps:
1. Lay flat on the floor, face down, arms out over your head, and palms on the ground.
2. Legs should be kept straight, this is your neutral position
There are 2 ways to do the next steps, b is more challenging :
- Raise one limb off the ground, hold for 5 seconds, and lower it back to the floor.
- Raise the opposite arm and leg simultaneously, and hold for 5 seconds.
3. Repeat for for 10-20 reps
This yoga pose will help keep your spine flexible and pain-free.
Yoga is a fantastic way to unlock the body’s flexibility and movement potential.
It’s no surprise then that performing some Yoga will help increase mobility, increase flexibility, and reduce discomfort, especially for those with scoliosis. To perform this yoga pose:
- Start on your hands and knees, ensuring your back is straight. This is neutral
- Drawing your abs in and up you arch your back as you breathe in
- Exhaling on the way out and releasing the abs, belly down, head looking up.
- Repeat these steps for 10 reps and do 3 sets.
This is another type of Yoga position that will help strengthen muscles that will help manage your scoliosis more efficiently.
This movement is a little more involved and difficult than the Cat-Camel/Cow pose and can be difficult for beginners to do.
- Starting on your hands and knees with your back straight.
- Palms under your shoulders and knees under the hips
- Extend one arm out and forward simultaneously extending the opposite leg outwards.
- Breathe and hold this position the extension for 2 seconds and return to normal.
- Repeat on the opposite side and do 8-12 reps on either side.
Latissimus dorsi stretch
The largest muscle in the upper body, the latissimus dorsi is often affected by scoliosis. Scoliosis can affect these muscles either directly or indirectly based on the type of scoliosis the person has.
Thoracic scoliosis affects these muscles directly and lumbar scoliosis can cause back tension that extends up to the latissimus dorsi. Stretching these muscles out is another great way to manage some of the pain and discomfort. To stretch these muscles :
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
- Your arms should be reaching over your head grabbing your left wrist with your right hand.
- Bend to the left until you feel a stretch on the right side of your body.
- Hold for 5 seconds and return to neutral.
- Repeat for the opposite side and perform 8-12 reps on each side.
A strong core is a good pillar for your body, strengthening this muscle group can lead to a significant decrease in pressure and stress on other muscle groups including the lower back.
This increased core strength leads to a lot of surprising benefits such as better posture.
To perform an Abdominal Press:
- Lay on your back, feet flat on the ground and knees bent.
- Keep the back neutral and not under any stress.
- Raise both legs off the floor until 90 degrees with your thighs
- To engage the core muscles, you must press on your knees with your hands as if wanting to push them away and pull in with your knees as if wanting to curl up into a ball. The forces should be equal and you should not move at all.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds making sure to breathe.
- Do 3 sets of 10
This is a static hold exercise, meaning there is no movement but the muscles are tensed and engaged in a push/pull action. These static exercises are far more effective for strengthening the core than any other type of ab exercise.
The abs are designed to perform thousands of motions per day, they stabilize the body with almost every action we take. So what sense does it make to add a few reps of crunches to the mix of thousands of movements a day?
The key is to hit the abs in a way that is most effective, and in this case, that way is using static holds. The abs are simply not used to performing static holds and the effect is far superior to doing hundreds of crunches.
What to Avoid
For those dealing with scoliosis, it is important to not exacerbate the issue by performing actions and movements that put too much tension or stress on the area.
Avoiding keeping the neck bent forward is important and is easily overlooked as smartphones are the biggest culprit for this habit. This is a very bad position to keep the neck in for long periods of time and for anyone with scoliosis would prove to be quite uncomfortable pretty quickly.
Avoiding gymnastics, or high contact sports are not great ideas as there can be significant forces at play during an impact, and having a compromised spine from scoliosis only raises your danger of injury.
High-impact activities are recommended to be avoided as the repeated impacts can cause some significant discomfort and damage to those suffering from scoliosis.
Exercise is a great way to reduce general discomfort for people suffering from mild scoliosis. The strengthened muscles can help each other out and reduce tension where it’s needed. Remember to always consult a doctor before attempting any exercise routines when dealing with any spinal conditions.
As you may have noticed, stretching and yoga are some of the best and most effective ways to reduce pain, tension, and discomfort. I suggest trying some of my mentioned exercises and poses and if interested, diving down the Yoga rabbit hole.
Yoga can be greatly beneficial to not only your body but also your mind. The increased range of motion and flexibility are bonuses on top of reducing discomfort and getting stronger.
Try out some movements and see what they can do for your well-being, that is why you are here after all, and slowly progress your way into some more complex movements.