Scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine that often occurs during the growth spurt experienced just before puberty. The only proven non-surgical way to treat idiopathic scoliosis, the most common form of this progressive spinal deformity, is with bracing. However, there are some exercises that may also ease symptoms and slow the progression of the curvature of the spine. Here are four of them.
1. Arm/Leg Raises
The purpose of performing a combination of arm and leg raises is to target and strengthen muscles in the lower back to ease the stress of the spinal curvature. The core spine-supporting muscle groups are also targeted. Arm/leg raises are done by:
- Lying on your stomach
- Placing your forehead or chin toward the ground (or on a towel)
- Straightening your legs and reaching your arms overhead
- Lifting one arm slowly off the ground and holding it briefly before lowering it
- Repeating the same routine with the other arm
Aim for 10–15 repetitions each, or whatever is comfortable for you. There’s a more intense version of this exercise that can also help with balance and coordination. Sometimes referred to as a “bird-dog exercise” or “opposite arm/leg raise,” here’s how it’s done:
- Start on your hands and knees while keeping your spine straight
- Place your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips
- Extend an arm straight out while also extending the opposite leg so it’s straight and level
- After holding a few moments while taking some deep breaths, lower your arm and leg
- Repeat with the opposite arm and leg and aim for 10–15 reps per side
Note: Another variation on this exercise involves lying on an exercise ball.
2. Pelvic Tilts
Pelvic tilts target the spine-supporting abdominal muscles. For increased comfort, it’s better to do this exercise on a yoga mat. Pelvic tilts are fairly simple as long as you maintain the right posture, and they’re a good exercise to consider if you’re a beginner. Here’s how you do them:
- Rest on your back and bend your knees while keeping your feet on the ground or on your mat
- Point your toes forward and pull your stomach in to make your pelvis arch upward while resting your back flat on the ground
- Hold the position for about 15–20 seconds before repeating about 10 times
Hold the position for about 15–20 seconds before repeating about 10 times
This exercise targets the tendons and muscles that provide some type of direct or indirect support to your spine. It’s also a type of yoga pose (marjaryasana), but it can be done as a standalone exercise as well by:
- Getting on your hands and knees
- Placing your arms directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips
- Keeping your head lined up with your spine/torso while focusing on the floor
- Rounding your back in a “cat-like” pose and lifting your back upward while focusing your eyes on your stomach area
- Taking a deep breath as you lift your chest and lower spine/tailbone slowly upward
- Allowing your stomach to sink down with your eyes looking upward
- Rounding your back and lifting your spine upward again
- Alternating between poses
4. Latissimus Stretches
The largest muscle in the human body, the latissimus dorsi extends from the middle to lower back and helps with extension and various other movements. If you have scoliosis, this muscle sometimes becomes tense. One way to relieve this tension is by doing latissimus (“lat”) stretches. Start by standing with your feet spread roughly shoulder-width apart while bending your knees slightly. You’ll then take the following steps to complete the stretch:
- Extend your arms overhead while grabbing one wrist with your opposite hand
- Bend to your right side so you can feel the stretch on the left side of your trunk
- Shift the majority of your weight to your right leg
- Hold briefly, get back to your starting position, and switch sides
Before you get started with any of these exercises, check with your doctor to make sure you can safely do them. Since proper form is also important, it may help to work with a physical therapist or trainer to learn how to safely do exercises for scoliosis before you make them part of your regular routine.
The exercises listed above can alleviate some of the effects of scoliosis, and you should see your Los Angeles spine surgeon regularly to monitor your symptoms and the progression of your condition. The spinal health experts at The Spine Institute have years of experience treating every aspect of spinal health, and we lead the industry in our use of innovative treatment methods. Call one of our friendly representatives today at to schedule an appointment.
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