Gentle, Low-Impact Yoga for Scoliosis Therapy
In "Comparing Yoga, Exercise, and a Self-Care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain," a 2005 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found that yoga had a better effect on improving lower back pain than other forms of back exercises. Because the postures and stretches employed in the various forms of this ancient meditative discipline are a low impact form of exercise, using yoga for scoliosis is an increasingly recommended method of physical therapy and pain management
What is Scoliosis?
In its most simple terms, scoliosis causes a lateral, rotated "S" curve to form in the spine that twists and displaces the rib cage. Beyond the obvious cosmetic deformity, individuals with scoliosis suffer from pain and cardiopulmonary complications due to the compression of the heart and lungs. There are actually four common patterns for the scoliosis curvature:
- right thoracic
- left lumbar
- right thoraco-lumbar
- right thoracic-left lumbar combined
When the configuration of the spine and ribs are actually altered, the scoliosis is said to be structural. The "functional" variety of the condition appears in adolescence and affects the back muscles without altering the body's structure. Causes may be poor posture or repetitious, imbalanced activities like carrying a heavy load on one side. Functional scoliosis is almost always reversible. (Overall, scoliosis is seven times more common in women.)
Yoga for Scoliosis
In many cases a series of corrective surgeries and the use of braces is needed to treat the structural form of the disease, but doctors recommend stretching and exercising for both types of scoliosis. The poses, movements, and breathing techniques used in various yoga disciplines improve the patient's posture, flexibility, and strength and can be beneficial in creating a more normal alignment of the body. Muscles that have contracted are both loosened and strengthened. While yoga for scoliosis is not a cure, it can diminish pain and have a positive influence on the individual's ability to psychologically cope with their condition.
Because many position in yoga require the body to bend from the hips, not the waist, even scoliosis patients with fused spines can execute the moves. It is common for practitioners with severe curvature to require modified positions that should be developed in consultation with a certified yoga instructor or a physical therapist conversant with the techniques.
In the beginning stages of a program of yoga for scoliosis some discomfort may result from the body's attempt to seek a new alignment. This usually manifests as minor soreness that passes as the person becomes more proficient in their yoga routine. It is extremely important, however, to develop a routine in concert with professional instruction and to mention pain that does not resolve. Pain is a messenger saying, "Hey, we need to do this a different way!"
Some books that may be of use to those interested in investigating yoga for scoliosis include:
1.) Back Care Basics: A Doctor's Gentle Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief
by Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D.
2.) Structural Yoga Therapy: Adapting to the Individual
by Mukunda Stiles
Additional information can be found at the home page of the National Scoliosis Foundation at scoliosis.org