Scoliosis can be a difficult condition to live your life with. A small sideways curvature in your spine can completely redefine your muscle balance, by causing tightness on one side, and stress on the other. This can lead to quicker fatigue in sports, quicker joint-wear as you go about your daily life, and annoyances like neck pain and back pain, caused by the imbalance.
Unfortunately, as your spine is the most important part of your body, the effects of scoliosis extend all the way from your head to your toes. There is plenty of good news though:
One of the key management programmes for Scoliosis Management is Clinical Pilates by certified Physiotherapists.
But before we dive into how Clinical Pilates can help, let’s go over what Scoliosis actually is.
Scoliosis is basically any curvature of the spine that differs from the standard curvature. Individuals with scoliosis have a slight curvature in their spine that can look like a ‘C’ or an ‘S’.
Your spine is not made of just a single bone, but consists of several bones called vertebrae, that are stacked on top of each other. Your spine is naturally curved inwards in the lower section (Lumbar) and outwards in the upper section (Thoracic). This elastic alignment gives you the flexibility to stretch, bend and balance. It also absorbs shock when you jump, or when accidents happen.
With Scoliosis sufferers, the spine may curve from side to side, or may also curve too far backwards or forwards. Sometimes, scoliosis may even cause the spine to rotate like a corkscrew.
Usually, small curves don’t cause much trouble, but large curves can affect joint and muscle in your body. These curves can severely damage the joints and may progress to arthritis of the spine. Very large curves can also cause lung problems, by reducing the volume of the ribcage.
According to the National Scoliosis Foundation, About 2.5% of the population has some form of Scoliosis (1).
Scoliosis often appears in children just during the growth spurt before puberty. Most of the cases do not need any treatment as the spine may correct itself with growth. However, depending on the child’s age and the degree of curvature, bracing and physical therapy is often recommended.
Living with scoliosis can be difficult as it is already a complicated and challenging stage of life. Teens face several emotional and physical challenges and diagnosis of scoliosis may additionally burden the child’s emotional well-being. Therefore it is necessary to build a strong and supportive peer group for individuals with scoliosis.
The scoliosis association of the United Kingdom states seven different types of scoliosis (2).
This is the type of scoliosis that people are born with. It happens when the spine does not fully form correctly during pregnancy.
In this type of scoliosis, the curve usually appears between birth and age 10, or before puberty. Many times, smaller curves may correct itself without treatment.
‘Idiopathic’ means there is not a known cause. This type of scoliosis changes the spine during a child’s growth, mostly between the ages of 10 and 18.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis can cause side curves along with a twist in the spine, both at the same time. This can cause a hump on one side of the ribs.
Adult degenerative scoliosis can be divided into two types; degenerative scoliosis and de novo scoliosis.
Degenerative scoliosis happens to those individuals who already have a history of scoliosis. Due to wear and tear with age, the spine starts to collapse, which causes the curve to increase further.
De novo scoliosis appears directly in adulthood. Again, wear and tear with age can cause the spine to curve. Typically, adult degenerative scoliosis is diagnosed after the age of 50.
Neurological or muscular conditions can generate curvature of the spine. Conditions such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida can damage the muscle-nerve pathways in the spinal cord and can lead to a curvature in the spine.
This specific condition causes the front section of the vertebrae to grow more slowly compared to the back section during childhood. Such deficiency causes the spine to grow in a forward angle resulting in a forward curve of the backbone.
This is where another syndrome causes Scoliosis as one of many symptoms.
Although most scoliosis cases are mild, serious cases may provoke complications such as altered appearance, back pain and heart and lung conditions.
Sounds scary, right?
The good news is, if you can’t tell if you have Scoliosis or not, chances are that it is minor or not at all. Moderate-to-severe cases clearly show imbalances in the body: usually with one shoulder at a different height to the other.
Some individuals have one shoulder blade sticking out more than the other or one shoulder higher than the other one. If the spine is twisted and a person bends over, one side of the ribcage may stick out more than the other side.
The majority of Scoliosis sufferers have very mild cases, so it may not be too obvious. Mild curves are usually painless or only provide minor annoyances such as the occasional headache or backache. Therefore they can go unnoticed without the parent or child knowing about the condition. Occasionally, friends, teachers and teammates are first to notice the curves in a child’s backbone.
The surefire way of finding out is to get an X-ray from your Doctor. By looking at the bones directly, the exact degree of your curve can be calculated.
For very young sufferers, specialist use of bracing, and other techniques can actually redirect Spinal growth to minimize the Scoliosis. Once you’re an adult, you’ve stopped growing and your spine is essentially set. As an adult surgical interventions remain a controversial topic, with few upsides (3-5). Effective, Drug-free, surgery-free Scoliosis Management is the key.
At this stage, it’s all about removing any causes of pain, and maximizing muscle balance to make sure you’re getting the most out of life. This teenage and adult phase is where Clinical Pilates truly shines.(6,7) Clinical Pilates can rebalance your muscle structure by lengthening some muscle groups, strengthening other groups, and building targeted strength around your spine and joints. With a personalized programme, you can take the stress of your vertebrae and joints; as well as improve functional mobility. All of this means less headaches, less back pain, and a good life, free from surgery and drugs.
Clinical pilates incorporates movements that activate your core muscles (8). Activating and strengthening your back and core muscles will help you get more control of your body.
Scoliosis can be accompanied by stiffness and pain in the body. Clinical pilates increases your upper and lower body functional movements (9,10) and improves the flexibility of your spine, further helping you reduce the discomfort. By releasing some tension in the back muscles, it also helps in reducing the pain (11-13). Unlike other forms of stretching such as yoga classes, Clinical Pilates is highly targeted and run by experienced Physiotherapists. This means that the flexibility you gain is the useful kind: the kind that actually improves your quality of life.
As an adult, your vertebrae are already fully formed to your curve. It’s no longer easily possible to change your spine’s curve, but by targeting your posture muscles, you can take gravity’s stress off the spine, freeing it up to be slightly straighter and more free. Combined with better muscle balance and back muscles, you will look straighter, and will feel more mobile and comfortable.
While there are plenty of reasons to work on your Scoliosis, we all have to admit that looking great and feeling great are one of our major concerns. It can be socially difficult if your scoliosis is visible to others, or if you can’t keep up in sports or on a walk.
With a focus on rotational movements and spine alignment, Clinical Pilates reduces vertebral rotation (11,14) and strengthens the trunk muscles. One of the main goals is to produce the best version of your Scoliosis that science can offer, with a better symmetry, and better muscle balance. As an added bonus, Clinical Pilates has been shown to enhance brain activity and prevent cognitive decline and dementia (15-17).
If you’re taking the issue seriously, you first need to see a doctor and get an accurate diagnosis. This means knowing the number of your curve in degrees, and what type of curve it is. Until you know exactly what the issue is, you can’t get targeted results.
In the meantime, there are many safe exercises focusing on muscle balance and symmetry that you can do at home.
If you experience any pain, do contact a qualified Clinical Pilates practitioner.
Mermaids are pilates exercises that stretch and lengthen your side body. They are great for scoliosis as it emphasizes on the sides of your body that may have gotten stacked and restrained.
Mermaid has a dynamic flow to its movement and can be used as a gentle warm-up exercise or can be performed intensely once you’re fully warmed up.
Sit on the floor with both your legs folded to the right side.
Keep your back foot flat on the floor, while your left hand firmly placed in front of you. This will provide some support to make you sit upright.
Extend your right arm straight above your head with bringing the inside of your arm as close to your ears.
Keeping your right hip grounded, initiate the stretch by extending your arms and spine towards the left. To additionally stretch your sides, let your support hand move further away from your body.
Now using your abs, bring back the torso up and reach to the other side. As you touch your right shin, you further lengthen your torso.
Repeat this moment at a dynamic pace for 2-3 times, then switch sides.
Mermaids help you stretch the thighs, obliques and shoulders. It opens your torso and lengthens the muscles between your pelvis and ribs.
Shoulder Bridge is our favourite exercise for increasing the stability of your spine. Scoliosis causes an imbalance in the movement of your muscles and the vertebrae.
Shoulder bridge not only strengthens your spine but also reinstates proper functional movements, which helps you reduce the pain.
Lie down in a neutral position. With your knees bent, start tilting your pelvis. This will help you close the gap between the mat and your lumbar spine.
Now, lift your back, vertebrae by vertebrae until a diagonal line is created, all the way from your knees to the shoulder. Make sure the knees are parallel and are not wandering or shaky.
Hold this position for 5 seconds and then lower your spine vertebrae by vertebrae, slowly on to the mat again. Repeat this exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions.
Shoulder Bridge is an excellent exercise to individually work on your spine and increase its mobility. Moreover, by contracting your trunk muscles and lifting the pelvic floor, you also activate the core as well.
Seated pelvic tilts are an exceptional exercise form for improving strength in your lower back muscles. This subtle spinal movement feels great because scoliosis patients feel as if the exercise is giving their back a massage.
To get started, first decide your surface of choice. You could use a flat surface or an exercise ball to challenge and engage your core.
Make sure you are sitting at a height where your hips are slightly higher than your knees.
Inhale as you take a seat with your feet shoulder-width apart, making sure you are engaging your core and staying balanced.
Exhale and tuck the tailbone under you while moving slightly forward. Inhale as you push your tailbone back to the starting position. Do 5 to 10 reps.
Seated pelvic tilts are a very safe exercise movement for people with scoliosis. They are great preliminary exercises for reducing your lower back pains. They strengthen your abdominal muscles, lower back and sacroiliac joints.
Scoliosis can be a major problem in your life, but through proper Scoliosis Management techniques, you can live to your fullest. Clinical Pilates is a great tool to do this.
Before beginning with Clinical Pilates, we perform a thorough full body assessment for evaluating your areas of weakness. From here, Clinical Pilates exercises are gradually introduced, emphasizing technique and an understanding of areas that are being targeted. Moreover, we specialize in programs for scoliosis in children.
Don’t let scoliosis be your puppeteer. Book an appointment today and regain control of your life.