Being diagnosed with scoliosis can seem like a huge blow, but if it happens to you, don't give up. While it's true that this type of spinal curvature can impact your overall posture and lead to chronic musculoskeletal issues, this isn't always the case. With proper scoliosis treatment, you can minimize the effects that this spine condition has on your day-to-day life.
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Exercises that target your core muscles may be beneficial in relieving mild scoliosis symptoms and correcting your spinal curve.
What Is Scoliosis?
Your spine is composed of a series of bones or vertebrae that are stacked one on top of the other. These vertebrae are divided into three sections: the neck (cervical spine), the mid-back (thoracic spine) and the lower back (lumbar spine). In a normal spine, the cervical and lumbar spines curve slightly inward and the thoracic spine curves slightly outward.
In people with scoliosis, the spine actually curves laterally or from side to side. In fact, a scoliotic spine often has a C-shaped or an S-shaped look to it when viewed from behind. While this may sound unusual, this spinal abnormality is not as rare as you'd think. A 2016 study in the European Spine Journal reported that up to 20 percent of adults may have some degree of scoliosis.
What Causes Scoliosis?
There are two main types of scoliosis in adults. Adult idiopathic scoliosis is spinal curvature that continues to slowly progress after first being diagnosed during childhood. Degenerative scoliosis, on the other hand, is curvature that first occurs in adulthood as a result of back degeneration, spinal arthritis or compression of the discs between your vertebrae.
In addition, scoliosis can be caused by neurological conditions like muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. These less common types are usually detected early in childhood when the disease is first diagnosed. Remember, scoliosis is a specific type of spinal deformity and can't be caused by everyday things like poor posture or carrying a heavier backpack at school.
How Is Scoliosis Diagnosed?
Scoliosis is typically diagnosed using an X-ray to visualize the shape of the spine's vertebrae. In some cases, an MRI may also be used to assess the bones and the structures around them. Additionally, your doctor may ask you to bend forward at the waist while you're in clinic so that your spine and ribs are more prominent and a possible scoliotic curve can be evaluated.
Once the curve has been visualized, it's typically labeled using the Cobb Method. This technique describes scoliosis in terms of the degree of spinal curvature. Curves of 25 to 30 degrees are generally considered to be significant and usually need some type of treatment. Curves approaching 45 to 50 degrees are more severe in nature and typically require more invasive interventions.
What Symptoms Does Scoliosis Cause?
In many instances, people with mild cases of scoliosis experience no symptoms whatsoever, but this is not always true. In some cases, scoliosis can cause back pain that's worse with standing or walking. It can also cause progressive numbness, tingling or weakness into one or both of your legs. These symptoms usually arise gradually and are worse first thing in the morning and at the end of a long day.
Can You Reverse Scoliosis?
While bigger curves may require more complicated medical treatment, mild scoliosis symptoms may be correctable with exercise alone. A 2017 study in Prosthetics and Orthotics International found that performing a core stabilization program can help lessen the pain and spinal deformity associated with this condition. There are a number of scoliosis exercises to help treat your spine.
Start With Supermans
This heroic-sounding exercise helps improve strength in the muscles that surround the lumbar spine.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your stomach with both arms over your head and both legs fully extended. You can use a towel roll under your forehead for comfort as needed. Without allowing your neck muscles to strain, lift both arms and legs in the air at the same time and hold them there for five seconds before lowering them to the floor again. Try three sets of 10 repetitions.
Try the Side Plank
Side planks effectively work the oblique abdominal muscles that help to rotate and side-bend the spine.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your side with your elbow underneath your shoulder and your forearm firmly on the ground. Without allowing your spine to twist, lift your hips off the ground as you rise onto your forearm and feet. As you do this, your body should be completely straight from your head to your ankles. Hold this position for five to 10 seconds and again attempt three sets of 10 reps.
Do Some Bird Dogs
This exercise helps elongate and activate the muscles on the side of the spine opposite your scoliotic curves.
HOW TO DO IT: Get on your hands and knees. If you have a C-shaped curve in your spine, lift the arm on the opposite (concave) side of the spinal curve in the air over your head. If your curve is S-shaped, you can also lift the leg on the concave side of your lower spinal curve straight behind you. Hold the extremities there for 10 seconds before lowering them back down and repeating 10 times.
Add a Few Crunches
Crunches target both the upper and lower sections of the rectus abdominis. This stomach muscle provides core stability to your spine.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back on the floor and bend your knees. With your hands interlaced behind your head, slowly lift your head and upper back in the air until you feel the bottom of your shoulder blades clear the ground. Maintain this hold for one to two seconds before returning to the starting position. Do two to three sets of 10 repetitions daily.
Read more: Exercises to Avoid With Scoliosis
Keep Your Doctor Informed
If your scoliosis doesn't improve with exercise, be sure to let your doctor know. Progressively worsening pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in your back or legs could signify that your condition is getting worse. In that case, more invasive treatments like bracing or surgery may be needed to reverse your scoliosis symptoms.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: A Patient's Guide to Anatomy and Function of the Spine
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Scoliosis
- European Spine Journal: Adults With Idiopathic Scoliosis Improve Disability After Motor and Cognitive Rehabilitation: Results of a Randomised Controlled Trial
- Scoliosis Research Society: Scoliosis
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Idiopathic Scoliosis in Children and Adolescents
- Mayo Clinic: Scoliosis
- American Association of Neurological Surgeons: Scoliosis
- Columbia University: Degenerative Scoliosis
- Prosthetics and Orthotics International: The Effectiveness of Core Stabilization Exercise in Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis
- Journal of International Medical Research: The Effect of a Core Exercise Program on Cobb Angle and Back Muscle Activity in Male Students With Functional Scoliosis: A Prospective, Randomized, Parallel-Group, Comparative Study
- Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach: Muscle Activation Among Supine, Prone, and Side Position Exercises With and Without a Swiss Ball
- Medicine: Proposal of a New Exercise Protocol for Idiopathic Scoliosis