Exercise and scoliosis – a research review
Historically, exercise has been discouraged for those with idiopathic scoliosis by the majority of orthopedists in the western world. In the early 1940s, a study entitled End-result study of the treatment of idiopathic scoliosis: report of the Research Committee of the American Orthopedic Association was published stating that exercise makes scoliosis worse. Although this study took place decades ago, the perception lingers, even among medical practitioners, that exercise for those with scoliosis is inadvisable.
I’m here to help set the record straight by highlighting the results of a much more recent study.
In 2008, a team of professionals searched multiple databases and position papers in all languages to find out what current research existed on physical activity and scoliosis. Their goal was to offer guidance to those in the healthcare world and people living with scoliosis in making decisions about what physical activities and sports to engage in. No evidence-based guidelines existed prior to this study. The result of their meticulous research resulted in the following findings below.
Note: this article does not review the use of exercise as therapy, but it does show whether or not people with scoliosis should engage in physical activity.
*There is simply no evidence to support that physical activity harms people with scoliosis.
*People with scoliosis should be encouraged to be physically active for physical, psychological and social well-being.
*High impact sports such as volleyball, contact sports, triple jump, long jump, weightlifting, off-road cycling, diving, cheerleading, etc., could lead to spinal trauma and are not recommended.
*The jury is split on torque activities such as ball games, ballet, gymnastics, wrestling, javelin, swimming, etc. Some researcher discouraged it, some did not.
*Recommendations for physical conditioning include spinal flexibility and core strengthening.
For the most part, the recommendations were the same whether you’re treating your scoliosis with physical exercise, a brace or have healed from spinal surgery. Regular exercise that doesn’t cause trauma to the spine can absolutely benefit people with scoliosis.
My take: Get active, get strong and use your brain. I rarely put parameters on what I allow myself to do or not do (nor do I usually do it for my clients), but if something doesn’t intuitively make bodily sense or makes my body hurt, I stop and find another way to get active.
What do you think? What physical activity does your spiral spine body like? Share your story!
 Green B et al.: Is physical activity contraindicated for individuals with scoliosis? A systematic literature review. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine 2009; 8:25-37.
 Shands AR et al.: End-result study of the treatment of idiopathic scoliosis: report of the Research Committee of the American Orthopedic Association. J Bone Joint Surg 1941: 23-A(4):963-77.