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Best Exercises for Scoliosis

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 19, 2020

Scoliosis is a curvature in the spine. Most cases of scoliosis develop just before you reach puberty. In those cases, the cause is not known. However, certain diseases like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy can also cause scoliosis at any stage of life.

Most of the time, scoliosis is mild and doesn't require any type of treatment. People can live comfortably with these mild cases. However, moderate and severe cases may require treatment with a back brace or surgery. Severe cases could even cause breathing issues due to compression of the lungs and chest.

People living with scoliosis may experience back pain and fatigue. If suffering from pain caused by scoliosis, the following exercises may help you improve your spine's positioning. These exercises will help strengthen your core muscles and improve your overall posture, reducing pain and tiredness.

Exercises to Help Scoliosis

Using these exercises, you can increase your core strength, improve your posture, and strengthen the muscles in your lower back. This will help slightly correct your spine’s positioning and mitigate some of the discomfort of living with scoliosis.

1. Pelvic Tilts

This exercise will help strengthen the muscles in your lower back:

Step 1: Lie on your back on the floor or an exercise mat.

Step 2: Activate your core and butt muscles to flatten your back on the floor, tilting your pelvis slightly forward.

Step 3: Hold the position for five seconds.

You can repeat this exercise ten times, twice a day, to continue building up your lower back muscles.

2. Sitting Rotation Stretch

The sitting rotation stretch can help improve your flexibility, which, among other benefits, can reduce some of the back pain you may be experiencing:

Step 1: Sit on the floor or an exercise mat.

Step 2: Cross your right leg over the left. Place the sole of the right leg on the floor.

Step 3: Place your right arm behind you as a support.

Step 4: Twist your torso towards the right leg.

Step 5: Extend your left arm so the elbow presses against the knee, deepening the stretch.

Step 6: Look over your right shoulder to deepen the stretch even more.

Step 7: Hold for as long as recommended by a personal trainer, physical therapist, or doctor.

For symmetrical exercise, repeat this stretch again on your other side.

3. Cat/Cow

Another stretch to promote flexibility throughout your body is the cat/cow exercise. This exercise may also be known as cat/camel stretch:

Step 1: Get on your hands and knees. Your wrists should be in line with your shoulders and your knees should be in line with your hips.

Step 2: Round your back until you feel a stretch in the lower back, while activating your core. This is the “cat” position.

Step 3: Lift the chest and tailbone. Look up while arching your back and stretching your abdomen. This is the “cow” or “camel” position.

You can repeat this stretch ten times, twice a day.

4. Bird Dog

This next exercise increases your core strength. Core stabilization can improve the symmetry of your posture, as well as your strength.

Step 1: Get on your hands and knees. Make sure your wrists are in line with your shoulders and your hips and knees are in line.

Step 2: Raise your right arm to shoulder level straight in front you.

Step 3: Raise your left leg straight behind you to hip level.

Step 4: Hold this position for the amount of time recommended by a trainer or physician. Make sure that you do not arch or round your back.

You can now repeat the exercise on the other side.

5. Plank

The plank is a simple but effective exercise for strengthening your core. There are four different “levels” of plank that you can perform:

Level 1: Knees and Elbows

Step 1: Lay on your stomach.

Step 2: Lift up your torso by resting on your elbows. Make sure your shoulders and elbows are in line. Your forearms should be fully on the ground in front of you, parallel to each other, with your elbow at about a 90 degree angle.

Step 3: Keep your knees on the ground. Lift from your abs and make sure you are not bending your hips or arching your back.

Level 2: Knees and Hands

Step 1: Get on your hands and knees.

Step 2: Make sure your wrists are directly under your shoulders

Step 3: Your knees should not be in line with your hips but behind them. Your torso should be in a straight line from shoulders to knees.

Step 4: Hold for as long as you can or for as long as recommended.

Level 3: Feet and Elbows

Step 1: Get on your hands and knees.

Step 2: Extend your legs behind you with toes flexed.

Step 3: Place your elbows on the ground directly under your shoulders.

Step 4: Your body should be in a straight line from your shoulders to your toes.

Step 5: Hold for as long as recommended or for as long as you can.

Level 4: Feet and Hands

Step 1: Get on your hands and knees.

Step 2: Extend your legs behind you with toes flexed.

Step 3: Make sure your body is in one line from shoulders to toes.

Step 4: Hold for as long as you can or for as long as your personal trainer or physical therapist recommends.

6. Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift

This final exercise is designed to increase the strength of the convex side of the spine, which may help mitigate some of your back pain. While the other exercises outlined required only the room to perform them, this exercise requires the ownership of a kettlebell weight.

Step 1: Choose a kettlebell weight that you can lift with one hand.

Step 2: Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. 

Step 3: Place the kettlebell on the outside of your right foot.

Step 4: Hinge at the hips, bending your knees, keeping your spine straight.

Step 5: Grab the kettlebell. Stand up with a neutral spine to pick it up.

Repeat this exercise as directed.

Safety Considerations

Those with scoliosis should consult their doctor before trying any exercises. Since each case of scoliosis is different, there may be certain exercises that specific people should avoid. These same exercises may be fine for other people with scoliosis. 

If an exercise is painful, stop right away and let your doctor know. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

Mayo Clinic: “Scoliosis.”

Hospital for Special Surgery: “Scoliosis In Adults: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments.”

Children's Hospital of Orange County: “Home Exercise Program for Scoliosis.”

Children's Hospital of Orange County: “5 Scoliosis Exercises.”

Ace Fitness: “Exercises for Scoliosis: How to Develop Programs for Clients with Scoliosis.”

Clear Scoliosis Institute: “Scoliosis Workout: Questions and Answers.”

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