As I stated last week, I’ve been inundated with emails and questions about the yoga side plank exercise for scoliosis, based on a study released late last year. You also know that I disagree with the study’s findings and believe that the exercise should be done on the opposite side that they suggest. Now, let’s put my theory into practice by reviewing an email, along with photos, from a man in Norway who’s been performing the yoga side plank, in an effort to decrease his curve.

IMG_1747

After months of performing the side plank

 

This first photo on the left was taken before he began doing side planks multiple times a week. After he read my rebuttal of the yoga side plank study, he began to panic that perhaps he was performing the plank on the wrong side, and had made his scoliosis worse.

 

 


Well, what do you think? Does it look like his scoliosis has gotten worse based on the photos above?

Hear what I have to say by watching my conclusion in the video below:

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24 thoughts on “Side Plank Exercise for Scoliosis – Norway Case Study

  1. Alexandra Derby 3 weeks ago

    Hey Erin,
    If you’re standing behind me looking at my back, the top right curves to the right and the bottom left curves to the left. The shape is the opposite of “S” (mirror image). Would I put my right side down to plank or would I put my left side down? I read the original study and their use of the words convex and concave seem inaccurate. I really appreciate your feedback.
    Thank you

    1. Erin Myers 2 weeks ago

      Hi Alexandra,

      Left hand down, but I wouldn’t do it. I’d do other exercises. Watch the Starting Point Series, which is located at the top of the home page. Then, watch some of the videos I have on the Shop page. I have a 180 page book called Analyzing Scoliosis that will be out in a few months that goes over many exercises that will benefit you. Good job at being proactive about your scoli, just don’t think one exercise is going to be the magic pill.
      Blessings, Erin

  2. Loren Fishman 2 years ago

    I’d like to know which side this man’s curves are on, and which side he had down when he was doing the side plank. I’ve been using it with my patients in my office for years, and more than 90% have improved substantially. I have a hunch he was doing it on the wrong side!

    Loren M. Fishman, MD

    1. Erin Myers 2 years ago

      Hi Dr. Fishman,
      Good to hear from you. The man from Norway has upper right and lower left curvatures. He did the side plank with the right hand down.
      -Erin Myers

    2. Alexandra Derby 3 weeks ago

      Hi Dr. Fishman,
      If you’re standing behind me looking at my back, the top right curves to the right and the bottom left curves to the left. The shape is the opposite of “S” (mirror image). Would I put my right side down to plank or would I put my left side down?
      Thank you

  3. Kevin 3 years ago

    This guy didn’t read the original research, so he did it wrong:
    (Here’s an abstract)
    “To understand why this yoga pose may help in sco- liosis, it is important to conceptualize the physics involved in creating scoliotic curves. A simplified analy- sis of how humans stand erect involves the symmetrical downward pull of the dorsal, abdominal, intercostal, and paraspinal muscles. Scoliosis, then, could be explained by asymmetry in the force these muscles exert on the spine. The spine will bend toward the stronger side, and thus, the muscles of the CONVEX side may be weaker than their smaller-appearing counterparts on the CONCAVE side (Figure 5). We speculate that the side plank pose is useful for strengthening the convex side’s quadratus lumborum, iliopsoas, transverses abdominus, oblique, intercostal, and paraspinal musculature, which, in turn, might straighten the spine (Figure 5).”

    Is clear that the authors made a mistake, calling convex what is concave. Or not?

    Here you can find the ORIGINAL AND FULL RESEARCH: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268609/pdf/gahmj.2013.064.pdf

    1. Erin Myers 3 years ago

      Hey Kevin,
      Almost no one reads original research (except you and me!), and that’s one of my biggest problems with the news world giving a quick 3 liner article about a “miracle exercise” helping scoliosis. Everyone with scoli is looking for a miracle pill and a miracle cure. I’m not going to throw John from Norway under the bus, because he really wanted to help his scoli by doing exercises and diligently did his exercises! So many people followed suite like him.

      The placement of the major scoli curve on the spine is going to greatly affect how one can use exercise to help it. John’s was a lot lower, and low curves stereotypically are a lot harder to work with because you don’t have the ribcage to help man-handle the spine (that is, the thoracic spine). The moral of the story is you need to have someone with a trained eye watch you to make sure whatever exercise you are doing is beneficial for all curves.
      Erin

  4. Dave Bishop 3 years ago

    Hi Erin, Me Dave Again. So sorry to message again as i am sure you are very sick of talking about side planks! Lol. I sent you a message before suggesting that I thought the exercise you did in your first video was the same exercise that the study implies you should do. You think that the study said the thoracic curve should be convex down when doing the plank, I understood it to say lumbar convex down while doing the plank. I am still trying to confirm that straight from the study. Anyways by the looks of it, you and the guy from norway in essence have a right thoracic and a left lumbar curve correct? Concave right lumbar, concave left thoracic? If so I have the same situation with my spine. Here is my question….. What side DID this guy from Norway do his planks on do you know? Here is the thing. If he was doing right planks, you feel that is incorrect (and so do I)correct? If he was doing left planks you feel he was doing it correctly (so do I) correct? So then I just have to figure out for sure what the study actually said you should do. Lumbar convex down or thoracic convex down. Do you have the actual study or is it accessible online? Here is another scary thought. What norway guy could just have proven here is that exercise CAN MAKE SCOLIOSIS WORSE so it is incredibly important to have exercise prescribed to you based on scientific results not just your speculating PT, yoga instructor or whatever.The problem is because there appears to be no proof anywhere, that means EVERY therapy is speculative. If there is no proof, any given therapy could be doing you serious damage (certain yoga poses, pilates etc designed for straight spines). The other thought I had is if he can make it worse doing one side, it is possible he could make it better doing the other. So if we just ride the fence and say do both sides, doing the wrong side may end up doing more damage than the correct side does good or visa versa. Jeesh! its confusing even trying to lay it all out logically. Lol. Hopefully I got the message across. Thanks for your time, Dave

    Anyway the main question I have is… What side did Norway guy do his planks on?

    1. Erin Myers 3 years ago

      Hi Dave,
      The Norway guy did his side plank the way the study suggested, which is thoracic convex down and lumbar concave down. Not good for this guy. YES, incorrect exercise CAN make scoli worse. That’s the tricky part. One exercise could be perfect for someone, and the exact same exercise could be detrimental to another person, even though the two people may have nearly the “same” scoli. The root of it all is that one has to be able to analyze one’s scoli. Then and only then can one figure out what exercises to do. I posted this info in a comment to you on the original side plank lost post, but I’ll post it here too.

      Enough of that, I’ve got what you really want…research proof showing that movement helps. You said it wasn’t out there, yes it is. This is from the original version of The Beautiful Scoliotic Back. I’m working on putting all this info into a new book called Analyzing Scoli. I hope to have it out in the next year or so, just depends on how much downtime I have with my heavy scoli client load. The info below is a drop in the bucket to the amount of research that’s actually out there. I left this information as a comment to a man, many comments ago on the original side plank theory blog post page:

      Medical research idiopathic scoliotic findings

      • Rotational stiffness is related to the severity of curve in frontal plane 2
      • The more rigid the curve, the more likely it is to worsen 4
      • Muscles weaker on concave side of thoracic spine 7
      • Weaker when rotating towards concavity of spinal curve 5
      • Asymmetry between lumbar paraspinals and obliques 5, 6
      • Causes postural alterations in orientation of head, shoulders, scapulas, pelvis, and rotation of body segments in horizontal plane 9
      • Characterized by decrease in standing stability 9
      • Surgery reduces frontal plane curvature and only minimally helps with axial rotation, so rib hump can persist after surgery 2
      • Results of exercise to correct muscle asymmetry are equal to or better than bracing 6
      • Scientific community gives very little consideration to physical exercise as a form of therapy for scoliosis 10
      • Physical exercise important during growth to delay or prevent need for bracing and/or keep scoliosis under 30 degrees 10
      • Physical exercise positively influences breathing function, strength, and postural balance 10
      • Muscle deficiency can be corrected with specific torso rotation and lumbar extensor strengthening 6
      • Frontal plane curvature corrects in response to lateral bending, but axial rotation does not 2
      • Ribcage side-shift exercises can stabilize curvature progression in adolescents 4
      • Functional scoliosis caused by tension of muscles surrounding the spine 1

      Research and References

      1. Azegami, H., Murachi, S., Kitoh, J., Ishida, Y., Kawakami, N., Makino, M. (1998). Etiology of idiopathic scoliosis. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. 357:229-236.

      2. Beuerlein, M., Raso, V.J., Hill, D.L., Moreau, M.J., Madooh, J.K. (2003). Changes in alignment of the scoliotic spine response to lateral bending (abstract). Spine. 28(7):693-698.

      3. http://www.ESpine.com

      4. Hawes, M. (2003). The use of exercises in the treatment of scoliosis: an
      evidence-based critical review of the literature. Pediatric Rehabilitation.
      6(3-4): 171-182.

      5. McIntire, K., Asher, M., Burton, B., Liu, W. (2007). Trunk rotational strength asymmetry in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis: an observational study. http://www.scoliosisjournal.co

      6. Mooney, V., Brigham, A. (2003). The role of measured resistance exercises in adolescent scoliosis. Orthopedics. 26(2):167-171.

      7. Mooney, V., Gulick, J., Pozos, R. (2000). A preliminary report on the effect of measured strength training in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (abstract). Journal of Spinal Disorders. 13(2): 102-107.

      8. Myers, T. Anatomy Trains. 2nd edn. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingston; 2009.

      9. Nault, M., Allard, P., Hinse, S., LeBlanc, R., Caron, O., Sadeghi, H. (2002).
      Relations between standing stability and body posture parameters in a
      scoliosis. Spine. 27(17): 1911-1917.

      10. Negrini, S., Antomini, G., Carabalona, R., Minozzi, S. (2003). Physical exercises as a treatment for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. A systematic review. Pediatric Rehabilitation. 6(3-4): 227-235.

      11. Omey, M.L., Micheli, L.J., Gerbino, P.G. (2000). Idiopathic scoliosis and
      spondylolysis in the female athlete. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related
      Research. 372: 74-84.

      12. Pashman, R. (2001). Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis. Backtalk 24(1).

      13. Taft, E., Francis, R. (2003). Evaluation and Management of Scoliosis. Journal of Pediatric Health Care 17(1): 42-44.

      14. Thek Lineback, K. Scolio Pilates. Hauge Printing; 2011.

      15. Warren, M., Brooks-Gunn, J., Hamilton, L., Warren, F., Hamilton, W. (1986). Scoliosis and fractures in young ballet dancers. New England Journal of Medicine. 314(21): 1348-1353.

  5. Nicole Ng 3 years ago

    Hi Erin, I have a 25 degree C curve in my spine with the lumbar area curved to my personal left. I think this means that my right lumbar is concave? Anyway if you stand behind me and look at my back, the lower part of my spine is curved to your left. I am getting really confused about which side I should do the side plank. Which hand should I put on the floor? Please let me know as I am really worried about doing it wrong. I just did a side plank with my left hand on the floor and I felt that it was strengthening the muscles in the lumbar area on my left and it feels wrong.

    1. Erin Myers 3 years ago

      Hey Nick,
      I’m not a fan of doing the side plank for people with a lumbar curve, which I’ve stated many times in posts and answers to comments. I want to know where your scoli stems from. Many people with a “C” shaped scoli in their lumbar curve have a leg length discrepancy, and that’s where the scoli manifested itself from. Are your legs the same length? If they are the same length then your curve may be idiopathic.

      To clarify where your curve is, if I’m looking at you from the back I’d see your spine curve to the left in your lumbar spine. Correct? If so, the concave portion of your curve is on the right and the convex part is on the left.
      Blessings,
      Erin

      1. nick 3 years ago

        Erin,
        Thanks for your reply and the clarification. I do believe its idiopathic because it started when I was around 12-13 and my legs are of the same length. I thought the side plank works primarily on the lower back so I thought it would be useful for a lumbar curve. Is that not so? If I do a right side plank only for strengthening the muscles on my right lower back, would you recommend it?

        Thanks,
        Nick

        1. Erin Myers 3 years ago

          Hey Nick,
          Yep, sounds like idiopathic scoli. Your right lumbar extensors need to be worked in a long fashion. If you did a side plank with your left hand down and slightly lifted your right leg up in the air it would fire your right lumbar extensors better. Try it and put your hand on your low back. You’ll feel the muscles fire. Again, I’m not a fan on doing side planks because most people’s alignment is off. I’d rather you lay on your left side on the floor and lift your right left in the air a few inches. Or, lay on your belly and lift your left leg in the air, and that will fire your low right lumbar muscles. Play around with those exercises and see what fires your low right muscles the best.
          Blessings,
          Erin

  6. Ikrame 3 years ago

    Hey Erin, I am 16 and i have asmall angle S shaped scoliosis , on my lambert area it is 12 degrees and it is really a minus degree in my shoulder area ! I know it is a small angle but i want to fight it while it is still light and be able to straighten my spine again! I have the concave in my lambert area in the right side of my back and the opposite in my shoulders. Please let me know on witch side i have to do the side planks on i don’t want to make it worse please !

    1. Erin Myers 3 years ago

      Irkrame,
      If I’m understanding this correctly, you’ve got an upper right and lower left curve with the right lumbar and left thoracic being concave. If that is correct, left hand would be down. But, as I’ve said in my other blog posts about side planks be careful with thinking that doing a side plank with “cure” you scoli. Please read all the other blog posts about side planks I’ve previously posted. Make sure you measure your back with a scoliometer (Scoliometer by Spiral Spine app in the iTunes app store for your iPhone) to make sure the exercise is making your back better and not worse. You can also download or get my DVD Hard Core Scoli available through Amazon. At this point in the game for you, just keep getting your spine aligned correctly and strengthen your core. Hard Core Scoli should easily be able to help with that. Also check out Spiral Spine’s You Tube channel because I have lots of videos on there. Way to go at catching your scoli early and wanting to do something proactive about it!
      Blessings,
      Erin

  7. Andrew 3 years ago

    Hey Erin! I appreciate your recent focus on the side plank! All over the Internet, I have found a number of sources that are incorrectly telling people to perform it on the wrong side. And for that, I am truly thankful you have taken the time to steer us toward the truth. Lucky for me, it is actually the only exercise that was prescribed for my back nearly a decade ago that I still remember, and even better yet I remember the side I was told to do it on, and it’s correct! I just started doing it again a couple days ago (for me, a side plank with my left side towards the floor) and I have never felt better, stronger, and more at center. In the meantime, I have been fortunate enough to research and find an advanced Schroth practitioner in the next town over! I will be seeing her very soon and can’t wait to start a regular program with her. Thanks for all your work, keep it up!

    1. Erin Myers 3 years ago

      Hi Andrew,
      Thanks for blowing wind into my sail. I’m so glad you know the correct side to do your plank on and that it’s helping you. You are truly blessed to have found an advanced Schroth practitioner in the next town over! Keep staying strong and mobile.
      Blessings,
      Erin

      1. Andrew 3 years ago

        Hey Erin. Would you still recommend doing the side plank if I actually have two thoracic curves? I have an upper left curve and then it immediately turns into an upper right curve forming an “s” in the upper back. Does doing a side plank still apply to me? My schroth practitioner was weary of me doing it because I have two upper curves. But it’s hard for me to accept because it does make my concave left side feel so good. She does however suggest just doing a straight plank with the hands out in front of me as if I was setting up for a pushup. Although not as intense, this does steel feel like it strengthens my concave side. What are your thoughts? Thanks!

        1. Erin Myers 3 years ago

          Hey Andrew,
          I agree with your Schroth practitioner and wouldn’t do a one-armed side plank. It may make one of your upper curves better, but it will most likely make the other curve worse. Do a two-armed regular plank while at the same time doing the breathing, shifting, and de-rotation work that your Schroth practitioner should have taught you. It will be a lot of mental and physical work to stabilize and correct yourself in that position. To go a step further, do the two-armed plank over a mirror that you hang on the back of a door (which I show how to do in my workout DVD Hard Core Scoli) so you can visually correct yourself at the same time. Great job working through your own scoli and the whole plank issue. It sounds like you’ve come up with a great plan.
          Blessings,
          Erin

          1. Andrew 3 years ago

            Thanks for your insights Erin! The body is a tricky thing. One thing will always affect another, so it’s always good to ask these sort of questions. I’m wondering if an exercise like a weighted shoulder shrug would work for pulling over a high upper/cervical curve just like the plank works for the curves for slightly lower thoracics. I only ask because my left shoulder muscle is larger than my right due to the curvature to my left. I have heard practitioners say that it is more difficult to correct curves that are higher up near shoulder level because there’s not as much leverage/give in that area. To me, it would make sense to try to strengthen the right shoulder but sometimes how one imagines something working isnt always the case! 😀 Do you have any knowledge pertaining to this area? Thanks again!

          2. Erin Myers 3 years ago

            Interesting people would say that because I would totally disagree. Higher thoracic curves, I think, are a lot easier to deal with because so many more muscles attach to them. Hence, you’ll more easily be able to affect those curves. I would not do shoulder shrugs though. The Pilates instructor is coming out in me here. Most shoulder/neck muscles in people are so overworked (even though one side is smaller than the other in your scoli situation). There’s got to be a better way to work balance out your spine and muscles than doing weighted shoulder shrugs. Didn’t your Schroth practitioner give you a set of exercises to do?

          3. Andrew 3 years ago

            Yes, I do have a set of exercises I am currently doing. It does seem harder though to target my top left curve than my larger right curve. My left curve transitions rather quickly into my right so that’s why it can be tricky to target both effectively at the same time. And you’re right, my schroth practitioner says both my shoulders have been overworked and underpaid. That’s great to hear that thoracic curves are easier to correct. I have been feeling amazing since beginning Schroth. I’ve never felt better. My practitioner says that as time goes on, the exercises will be adapted and added on to.

          4. Erin Myers 3 years ago

            While compensatory curves are important, your main focus should be on your major curve. Often times if you can decrease your major curve, your compensatory curves will decrease too. I’ve seen it time and time again. They compensate from your spine going deeply in one direction and help your body find balance, hence why they are called compensatory curves. Trust the program your Schroth practitioner has you on for your major right curve. Look into getting manual body work to chill out the muscles around your upper left curve. I bet those over worked upper left muscles could benefit greatly (and hence your upper compensatory curve) from getting released.

          5. Andrew 3 years ago

            Awesome. Thanks for the great tips! I’ll keep all of this in mind. And yes, I do need to start putting more faith in the program I have set for me right now. I’m already beginning to see great results and I’ve only been at it for about a month. I think I’ll have to mentally let go of the idea of the side plank for now and put trust in what others are telling me. Thanks for being a source of support 😀