Scoliosis can be a scary diagnosis, especially when you think you are physically limited because of having one. Luckily, I’m here to tell you that moving is exactly what you should be doing if you have a scoliosis.
A scoliosis is an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine, which also has a rotational component. A scoliosis can be “C-shaped” - a single lateral curvature in an area of the spine, or “S-shaped” - two curves in different areas of the spine that form an “S” shape. These curves can be congenital - presenting at birth, or acquired - developed because of life and compensatory movement patterns. In either case, there are varying degrees of bony deformities, meaning that the bones of the spine have changed overtime due to the scoliosis. Bones will morph based on the forces placed on them, so the longer a scoliosis is present without addressing it, the more likely one is to get permanent bony deformities - and therefore a worsening curve.
With all of that being said, there is hope. A few weeks ago, we posted a blog about mobility. In this blog, we made it very clear that “move it or lose it” is a very real thing. Oftentimes, when someone is diagnosed with a scoliosis, moving out of their curve (bending or rotating in the opposite direction of the curve) can be scary or uncomfortable. Over time, avoiding movement leads to immobility in the spine - move it or lose it. Working on the mobility of the joints involved will not correct the scoliosis completely - maybe even at all, but mobility work can significantly limit the progression of scoliosis. Mobility work can also allow you to lead a “normal”, physically fit lifestyle, and can even help improve your posture by providing strength to your surrounding joints, as opposed to just collapsing into the scoliotic curve.
The most important thing to do when having a scoliosis is to make sure that you are doing mobility work both out of and into the curve to give those joints the healthiest environment possible. Moving out of the curve means moving in the opposite direction of the curve. While this can be uncomfortable, improving mobility out of the curve slowly and intentionally can provide great relief. Moving into a curve means moving in the direction that the curve is already going. This may sound counterintuitive because it seems like it would worsen the curve, but it doesn’t and a scoliotic joint that doesn’t move out of or into the curve gets extremely stiff and immobile. The more stiff a joint is, the less blood flow and lubrication it gets - vital things a joint needs to be healthy. Moving and strengthening a joint to its end range will improve the health of the joint, decrease pain, improve and strengthen surrounding musculature, and potentially help to improve posture.
Pilates and yoga are great forms of exercise for a person with a scoliosis. Both incorporate breath work, spine articulation exercises, side bending, and rotational exercises - all of which encourage movement of the spine in a healthy way. The key to any exercise routine, especially one that is meant to address a scoliosis is consistency. In order to improve the mobility of the curve and see true strength changes, this work needs to be done daily via a home exercise program, in addition to sessions with a skilled professional.
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