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.
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, 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!