If you have scoliosis, certain yoga postures may help decrease the curves of your spine, according to a study.1
- Scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine. It typically develops in adolescence.
- This type is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, AIS.
- It may also progress in adulthood or develop in adults due to age-related degenerative changes in the spine.
- This one is called degenerative scoliosis, DS.
The curves may be in any portion of the spine:
- Lower (lumbar)
- Middle (thoracic)
- Upper (cervical)
There may be one of two curves:
- Creating a “C” shape
- Creating an “S” shape
Scoliosis can cause back pain and, if severe, can compress organs and cause:
- Difficulty breathing
- Nerve impairment
- Cardiac complications
Conventional management includes:
- Active surveillance (that is, keeping an eye on whether the condition progresses)
- Physical therapy (various exercises, and movement therapies like the Alexander technique can also help manage the condition)
Putting yoga to the test
For the latest study, there were 49 people with DS and 25 with AIS. None of them had previous spinal surgery or other musculoskeletal or neuromuscular disorder. They underwent a home yoga program that consisted of doing either one or two poses as instructed, at least every other day for 6 to 11 months. Ages ranged from 8 to 80.
All the participants had scoliotic curves in the lower half of the spine. They did a modified side plank (Vasisthasana) pose. The modification was to hold the upper ribs about a half-inch higher than in the classic pose. The pose was further modified if needed to accommodate any physical limitations participants had.
Participants who also had scoliotic curves in the upper half of the spine did the modified side plank plus a half-moon (Ardha Chandrasana) pose with the help of a belt.
With just a few exceptions, participants showed significant decreases in their curves compared to their baseline, as seen on spinal X-rays. For example, in people with DS:
- Scoliotic curves in the lower half of the spine decreased nearly 24%.
- Curves in the upper half of the spine decreased nearly 28%.
Two people with DS and four people with AIS showed no improvements, however. And two people with DS had worsening of curves.
The researchers hypothesized that the poses may help straighten the spine by strengthening the musculature on the convex side of the curve.
If you have scoliosis, you should be medically evaluated.
- At first, try yoga under supervision of a professional trained in yoga and in the treatment of spinal disorders.
- If done on the wrong side, yoga could worsen the curves, as was seen in one young study participant. Though this was reversed when she corrected the mistake.
- The poses can be modified for people with weakness, severe arthritis, shoulder instability, or other issues.
- But if you have severe scoliosis, you should be under the care of a specialist and follow his or her advice about yoga.
This research is still preliminary. And it still needs to be replicated in more people. But in the meantime, something as simple as this is worth discussing with your spine specialist.
- Loren Fishman. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, December, 2017.