Tag: scoliosis and sport

Scoliosis – Can I Play Sport?

Physical exercise is a vital component of overall health, even for those with scoliosis. At the UK Scoliosis Clinic, we advocate for an active lifestyle during scoliosis treatment. Despite common misconceptions, scoliosis doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding sports altogether – although you do need to ensure your exercise program is not slowing down your treatment.


How to Choose Sports for Scoliosis

While participating in sports and physical activities may not treat scoliosis, they can actually help to address some of the associated muscle weaknesses and imbalances which often come with the condition. Tailored scoliosis-specific exercises are ideal, but any core-strengthening activity could be considered valuable as part of a broader treatment program. Exercise should be approached cautiously to avoid worsening existing imbalances however, so professional guidance is key. In general, we can point to some popular exercises which can be highly beneficial, as well as some which can be problematic.


Good Sports for Scoliosis

  1. Swimming – A low-impact, full-body workout that enhances strength and cardiovascular fitness. Opt for strokes that maintain a neutral spine position, and avoid high-diving.
  2. Cycling – A low-impact sport providing excellent cardiovascular benefits. Limit off-road cycling to avoid high-impact jolting that may compress the spine.
  3. Cross-Country Skiing – Minimises shock to the vertebrae and engages both sides of the body, promoting a strong and balanced spine. Skiing machines at the gym are suitable alternatives for those not located near a slope.
  4. Strength Training – When performed under professional guidance, strength training can strengthen muscles supporting the spine. Emphasise proper form to prevent worsening scoliosis.
  5. Yoga – Beneficial for adults with scoliosis, offering calming effects and potential fitness improvement. Some limited research suggests yoga could assist in treating scoliosis, making it a valuable complement to targeted exercises.
  6. Stretching – Essential for relieving tension, restoring range of motion, and counteracting the spine’s curvature. Be mindful of safe stretches and avoid those that hyper-extend or severely rotate the spine.


Bad Sports for Scoliosis

Certain sports, due to their nature, may load the body unevenly or stress the spine in ways that can worsen scoliosis. While participation is not necessarily ruled out, caution and consultation with a practitioner are advisable.

  1. Gymnastics, Ballet, Dance – These activities, which involve spine-contorting movements, may promote scoliosis. Caution is advised, especially for individuals at risk of developing or already having scoliosis.
  2. Trampoline or Impact Sports – While jumping on a trampoline strengthens leg muscles, it may worsen lumbar scoliosis due to downward landing forces. Impact sports like rugby pose inherent spinal injury risks and are best avoided.
  3. Strength Training with Spinal Compression – Heavy lifting can compress the spine over time. Proper guidance from a scoliosis professional is essential to exercise safely without unnecessary compression.
  4. Tennis, Javelin, Skating – One-sided sports that stress one side of the body more than the other, potentially increasing scoliosis. Balancing with complementary exercises may be appropriate.


Can I Play?

Sports and physical activities are great fun and a key aspect of overall health. Participation in sports is of course encouraged for individuals with scoliosis, however it’s critical that the chosen exercises align with their treatment program.




Can you participate in sport with scoliosis?

Scoliosis or not, physical exercise is fantastic for the body and the mind. At the UK Scoliosis Clinic, we encourage our patients to stay active and enjoy their lives as normal while being treated for scoliosis (after all, that’s the point!). It’s often been suggested, however, that Scoliosis should prevent you from participating in sport – is this true?


How to choose sports for Scoliosis

While there’s no evidence that any sporting activity can treat Scoliosis, we do know that the condition can cause muscle weakness and imbalances, which many physical activities can help to address. Scoliosis specific exercise is, of course, the best way to do this, but any core strengthening exercise could be supportive, as long as it is not serving to exaggerate any existing imbalances. Exercise, overall, strengthens the core muscles that support the spine, keeps the body nimble and prevents stiffness and supports overall health and boosts self-esteem. For this reason, we suggest you do seek out exercise to keep fit, and build strength – but seek a professional consultation for advice on your specific case first.

With this in mind, let’s look at some exercises which are great, and some which might be best avoided for Scoliosis.


Good sports for Scoliosis


It was once thought that swimming might be a treatment for Scoliosis – but research has failed to demonstrate this. Since we now understand that the best way to treat Scoliosis is with targeted exercise designed to oppose scoliotic development, it seems unlikely that this would be true. Nonetheless, swimming is a fantastic low impact, low-risk activity which builds strength and cardiovascular fitness. Strongly recommended, although activities such as high-diving are probably best avoided.



Cycling is another low-impact sport that gives a great cardiovascular workout without aggravating scoliosis curves. Limit off-road cycling, however, as high-impact jolting can compress the spine.


Cross-Country Skiing

Gliding-type activities such as cross-country skiing are often recommended for scoliosis patients because they minimize shock to the vertebrae. Cross-country skiing also works both sides of the body, which is helpful for supporting a strong and balanced spine – don’t live in a country with enough snow? The skiing machine at the gym is also a good choice.


Strength Training

Strength training, as a rule, is positive for scoliosis sufferers, as it can help strengthen muscles which support the spine. Caution is needed here, as resistance exercise can exacerbate scoliosis if performed improperly. We recommend strength training, but see your scoliosis professional for recommendations first.



Yoga may be beneficial for an adult with scoliosis. At the very least it can be calming, and improve overall fitness. There has been some very limited research which has suggested yoga could assist in treating scoliosis, although the evidence is of a low quality. Yoga might, however, be a fantastic complement to targeted Scoliosis specific exercise



Flexibility training is one of the most important things you can do for scoliosis. Regular stretching relieves tension and helps restore range of motion; if done strategically, it can help counteract the spine’s curvature. Just be aware of which stretches aren’t safe exercises for scoliosis. When practising yoga, for example, use modified poses in place of those that hyper-extend or severely rotate the spine.


Bad sports for Scoliosis

If sports which are good for scoliosis are those which load the body evenly, and correct imbalances – sports which are bad do the opposite, they’re typically one-sided activities which stress the body, or the spine, in unusual ways. If you have Scoliosis this does not mean you should never enjoy these activities, but it’s worth consulting with your practitioner about how often you should participate.


Gymnastics, ballet, dance – exercises which contort the spine.

There is some evidence that certain types of exercise – specifically those which contort the spine – may promote scoliosis. These include ballet, dance and rhythmic gymnastics. Various studies have suggested that scoliosis incidence is anywhere between 12 and 30% more common amongst gymnasts.

Much more research on these correlations is required in order to make concrete determinations about the risk posed by these kinds of activities – it may, for example, simply be the case that scoliosis is more likely to be noticed among these disciplines since there is more awareness of it. Nonetheless, we do suggest you carefully consider these activities if you or your child has or is at risk of developing scoliosis.


Trampoline, or impact sports

Jumping on a trampoline may be excellent for strengthening your leg muscles, but those with a lumbar type of scoliosis should avoid it. The downward landing force stresses the spine, possibly causing scoliosis to worsen. Similarly, impact sports such as Rugby come with an inherent risk of spinal injury, which is best avoided with Scoliosis.


Strength training, long lump, exercises which compress the spine

We’ve listed strength training as bad, as well as a good sport to underscore the need for caution. Heavy lifting can compress the spine over time – and while spinal compression occurs whenever a child takes a step, jumps, or runs, repeatedly engaging in high-impact activities places significant stress on the spine and can aggravate scoliosis over time. Get your scoliosis professional to show you how to exercise safely without unnecessary spinal compression.


Tennis, Javelin, Skating etc, exercises which unevenly stress the spine.

These are all sports which stress one side of the body more than the other, possibly leading to increased scoliosis.  It’s the “one-sided” nature of these sports which is problematic, so in many cases, it might be safe to continue by balancing with complementary exercise. Play tennis and serve with the right hand? Some targeted exercise on the left-hand side is probably appropriate.


So, can I play?

There’s no reason why people with scoliosis should not participate in sports – but it’s also important to avoid activities which may make the condition worse. It’s well worth investing in a consultation with a specialist to make sure that you’re participating in a way which is safe, and which may even assist in treatment!

Scoliosis and sport- what’s the best approach?

When many people discover they have scoliosis (or when parents discover their child has scoliosis) one of the first things they ask is often “do I need to give up X sport”.

There is a great deal of misinformation around scoliosis and sport, perhaps this is mainly because there is a perception that scoliosis and sport don’t mix. It’s certainly true that on average scoliosis sufferers do tend to be less physically active – in some cases this might be related to the condition (severe scoliosis can make exercise more difficult)[1] but the cause can also often be social in nature.

It’s also true that some activities (Especially those which involve contorting the spine) do tend to correlate with a higher incidence of scoliosis sufferers amongst its participants. Ballet and rhythmic gymnastics are good examples.

Today, we’ll attempt to tease out some easy to follow guidelines for scoliosis sufferers – here’s what we do know:


Should I exercise with scoliosis?

Cardiovascular exercise is always good for you.

Whether you suffer from scoliosis or not, exercise in any form is going to be beneficial to your body. Exercise results in health benefits such as an increase in cardiovascular health, increased aerobic capacity, increased bone density, improved mental outlook, reduced body fat and increased life expectancy.

This means that in general, it certainly is advisable for scoliosis patients to exercise regularly. What might need some consideration is the type of exercise undertaken – especially when dealing with adolescents who are still growing and are therefore more skeletally immature.[2] This being said, much of the advice that goes for adolescent scoliosis patients could also be applied to non-scoliosis patients!


Which exercises should scoliosis sufferers be careful with?

At the UK scoliosis clinic, we focus heavily on individualised care. Rather then taking the group treatment or “bootcamp” route, we tailor scoliosis treatment to an individual’s exact requirements. For that reason, we’re not so quick to say that certain exercises should be avoided altogether. That being said, there are some forms of exercise which need to be performed carefully and with a mind to avoiding stressing the spine, especially in adolescents. These include:


Impact sports carry a risk to the spine for everyone

Impact sports

Impact sports such as rugby are a cause for concern not only with scoliosis patients, but with adolescents in general. The risk here is obvious, an impact injury always carries a risk of concussion, spinal injury or damage to the joints. In a scoliosis sufferer, this kind of injury might serve to worsen the progression of the scoliotic curve. [3]

When considering impact sports, we should also include athletic events such as long jump or high jump which can place significant load on the spine if performed with poor technique.

Adolescents are at the highest risk here, but much of this can be mitigated by playing non-impact versions of the sport in question, such as touch rugby – which is probably to be recommended anyway!


Resistance training

Some forms of resistance training, such as free weight lifting can post a risk to the scoliosis sufferer. The curvature of the spine disturbs the body’s natural balance and makes it more likely that an injury arising from spinal loading will occur. This is not to say that resistance training should be avoided altogether – instead, targeted programs using appropriate equipment (lean towards fixed weights and bands) should be used.  Also of concern is the mount of weight used during resistant training , due to increased lading or compressional forces, which can compress the growth plates and potentially inhibit vertebral body growth and may progress or worsen scoliosis.

At the UK scoliosis clinic, we are especially well equipped to work with patients to improve their balance and posture, which will greatly reduce this risk – through methodologies such as chiropractic biophysics, postural analysis and scoliosis specific exercise.


“One-sided” activities

Asymmetric loading simply means that the spine is being subjected to different degrees of force on either side. If you carry a rucksack on your back by a single strap, you’re asymmetrically loading your spine.

Some practitioners suggest that activities which tend to asymmetrically load the body (most things with a bat or racket) should be avoided – however this approach is too broad in most cases and tends to cut off many of the most enjoyable sports! (this also serves to demonstrate the importance of individual patent cantered care!)

The risk with asymmetric sports is that over time, one side of the body (and of the muscle supporting the spine) becomes stronger and larger than the other side – this factor can then serve to worsen scoliosis. Assuming a proper warm up there is very little risk in actually participating in these kinds of sports.

The solution is to carefully monitor growth and symmetry and perform targeted exercise on the non-playing side of the body (usually the non-dominant side) in order to balance out development. Again, this is important to scoliosis patients, but good advice for anyone!


Are there exercises which cause scoliosis?

Ballter dancer

Ballet dancing can increase scoliosis risk substantially

There is some evidence that certain types of exercise – those which contort the spine – may promote scoliosis. These include ballet, dance and rhythmic gymnastics. Various studies have suggested that scoliosis incidence is anywhere between 12 and 30% more common amongst gymnasts[4]

Much more research on these correlations is required in order to make concrete determinations about the risk posed by these kinds of activities – it may, for example, simply be the case that scoliosis is more likely to be noticed among these disciplines, since there is more awareness of it.

It seems reasonable, however, to suggest that you book an appointment for an individual consultation before continuing with dance, ballet or gymnastics. In most cases, scoliosis does not need to prevent you from participating – but a personalised treatment plan should be put in place to ensure you are properly supported.


Which exercises are good for scoliosis sufferers?

It was once thought that swimming might be an effective treatment for scoliosis, and there’s no doubt that some scoliosis sufferers do use swimming as an enjoyable part of their scoliosis specific workout routine. Recent research has unfortunately suggested that swimming is not an effective treatment for scoliosis[5] – but more research is required in this area. Incidentally, the same study showed that swimming might increase the risk of hyper-kyphosis.

In general, low impact exercise is ideal for scoliosis sufferers, as is exercise which does not progress to the point of exhaustion. Since a many scoliosis patient also suffer with poor coordination exercises designed to improve coordination can also be beneficial as this helps to improve the body’s sense of position. Exercise taken to the point of exhaustion increases the risk of injury in anyone but carries more risk for the scoliosis sufferer.

Therefore, shorter runs or working out on an elliptical machine is a good alternative for basic cardio workouts. Biking is also a good alternative, as long as there is not too much forward flexion of the lumbar spine.



The most important factor to take away from this blog is the need for individualised care. Each scoliosis sufferer is an individual and requires a treatment plan which works for them and their choice of sport.

At the UK scoliosis clinic, we have in house sports therapists, postural specialists and chiropractors certified in chiropractic biophysics who can work with you to make modifications to your exercise routine to minimise risk whatever your sport!



[1] Pediatric Exercise Science. 30, 2, 243-250, May 2018

[2] Eur Spine J. 2011 August; 20(Suppl 3): 415–419. Beneficial effects of aerobic training in adolescent patients with moderate idiopathic scoliosis

[3] J Pediatr. 2015 Jan;166(1):163-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.09.024. Epub 2014 Oct 25.

[4] https://scoliosisclinic.co.uk/blog/ballet-dancing-increase-risk-scoliosis/

[5] J Pediatr. 2015 Jan;166(1):163-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.09.024. Epub 2014 Oct 25.