Yoga for Scoliosis: It depends
The practice of Yoga is recommended for scoliosis. Which type of Yoga will depend on a few things…..
Scoliosis is a visible curve in the spine that goes sideways (laterally). This curve may be a single or a double curve and there can even be a twisting of the vertebrae mixed in with the sideways bending of the spine.
Side-ways curvature of the spine is more common than one may think, especially amongst women, and usually presents as a sideways curve in the thoracic, middle area of spine. Scoliosis effects approximately 1- 3 percent of the population.
There are two categories of scoliosis to consider.
The first type is postural scoliosis and can be caused by a difference in leg length or repeated poor posture over a period of time.
The second type is referred to as structural scoliosis and is often the more challenging type. In this group the cause may be unknown, related to some congenital factor, neuromuscular issue or bone abnormality.
Scoliosis presents with varying degrees of curvature and patterns. Scoliosis is not necessarily a significant issue for all individuals, this may depend on the degree of deviation or curvature and whether the condition is progressing.
Often people with scoliosis present because of a noticed muscular imbalance, with effects on their range of movement, generalised stiffening or varying degree’s of back pain may be an issue. In severe cases ones breathing may be affected.
A Yoga practice is recommended for scoliosis.
The treatment of Scoliosis is a grey area and there are mixed opinions on what works best. However, there is great support that yoga and exercise has a positive role to play in the functional management of scoliosis and as a preventative to progression.
Generally, there are no restrictions to the yoga practice (exceptions may apply such as spinal surgery). Here are some basic suggestions and points to focus on when designing a practice.
- It is important to observe the person while they are practicing the postures, to really determine appropriateness and what posture is having the best effect on the spinal curves.
- Scoliosis is an asymmetric condition therefore it is suggested to work with asymmetrical postures to counter this effect.
- Given the muscular imbalance one will be offering both strengthening postures and movements that enhance range of movement.
- What feels better may not necessarily be the best, guidance from a skilled Yoga Teacher is recommended.
- A practice that cultivates a nourishing self-care experience.
Scoliosis and Yoga Research
Dr Loren Fishman published a study in the Global Advances in Health and Medicine (2004) that looked at the benefits of side plank and the effect on the curves of Scoliosis patients.
This study claims that with the regular practice of side-plank, where the person maintained the posture for as long as possible with the convex side of the spinal curve facing down, that after 3 months there was a reduction by %30- %40 in the spinal curves.
Dr Fishman (MD) believes that the convex side is the weaker of the sides. “That being the side where the ribs splay out like spokes of a wheel.” By coming in to side plank pose one is asymmetrically strengthening the quadratus lumborum, iliopsoas and paraspinal muscles of the convex side, reducing the curve.
At this stage this research provides the only peer reviewed study available, thus it recommendations are definitely worth considering and trialling.
Reference: “Serial Case Reporting for Idiopathic and Degenerative Scoliosis,” Dr. Loren Fishman, Karen Sherman, Eric Groessl. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, September 2014, Vol. 3, No. 5: pp. 16-21
Written by Lisa Grauaug B AppSc (Nursing), B Psych, M Psych, Adv Dip Yoga Teaching, Ayurveda Lifestyle Certificate, Perinatal Mental Health Course (USyd), Registered Psychologist, Registered Yoga Teacher, Registered Yoga Therapist, Yoga Australia Member