Scoliosis often creates an S-shaped curve that starts in the thoracic region of the spine. Without treatment, the spinal curves caused by scoliosis may worsen, causing pain, physical disfigurement, breathing difficulty and the need for bracing or surgery. No research has shown the effectiveness of stretching to reverse scoliosis, but it can relieve pain and discomfort. Consult your physician prior to starting to determine a safe stretching program.
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Performing stretches of the spine without direction of a doctor, physical therapist or other certified professional can result in injury or worsening of your scoliosis. Use a slow and controlled motion during each movement. The maximum benefit from stretching occurs when you hold each stretch for a minimum of 10 seconds. If you feel pain, decrease the intensity of the stretch.
Rotational stretches of the thoracic spine can help combat the natural twist of the spine that occurs as your spine curves into an S-shape. The twisting of the spine often twists the rib cage, which can make breathing more difficult. Heath Brown, a physical therapist at Rehabilitation Today in Bradford, Pennsylvania, often recommends a sitting back twist with a bend. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs crossed, Indian-style. Place your hands behind your head. Rotate as far as you can, trying to bring your right elbow to your left knee. Repeat on the other side. The best spinal twist occurs when all motion comes from the back. Avoid moving your arm at your shoulder or your leg at your hip. Brown advises against stretches that require you to use the back of a chair to twist your spine.
Stretches that focus on lengthening the spine help reduce the S-curvature, even if it only lasts a short time. Yoga poses often focus on elongating the spine and improving posture. The cat/cow pose and the child pose work well for lengthening the spine. For the cat/cow pose, start on your hands and knees. Tuck your head and hips under as you arch your back up. Hold and then reverse the stretch by arching your back toward the floor as your raise your head. Move to the child pose by lowering your hips backward until they come as close to your feet as possible, keeping your hands in place so your arms stretch above your head.
Side stretches help decrease the concave portion of your thoracic S-curve. A side stretch works best in a standing position, but also helps when performed while sitting. Reach straight up with your right hand, as you reach straight down toward the ground with your left hand. If you do not feel much of a stretch, reach your right hand over your head toward the left side as you continue to reach straight down with your left hand. Repeat on the other side. Another version of side stretches requires you to lie down with a pillow under your side as you stretch your top arm over your head.