When seeking relief from scoliosis pain, many of today’s patients turn to yoga.
Although this ancient practice doesn’t make any significant impact on the progression of spinal curves, the strengthening and structural alignment developed through yoga poses (known as asanas) can reduce pain and help patients live more comfortable lives.
“I find that asana alleviates pain in nooks that would otherwise hold it,” said one scoliosis patient. “And when I’m not practicing, I feel the pain return to certain parts of my back that feel pressure.”
But yoga and scoliosis don’t necessarily go hand in hand. While many poses are perfectly safe for scoliotic spines — and some even provide proven benefits — many others can make the curves worse. To safely perform yoga for scoliosis relief, it’s important to differentiate between asanas that can help and those that pose a risk.
Recommended Yoga Poses for Scoliosis
Yoga offers several easy poses for beginners that can help those with scoliosis find their center, strengthen their core muscles, decrease their pain, and focus on their breath. When practiced regularly, they can help improve patients’ quality of life.
Mountain pose: This yoga pose requires a tall and steady stance, which helps develop balance and core strength.
Tree pose: Also a standing pose, this stance offers additional balance and core strengthening while also helping with posture for scoliosis patients.
Cat pose: This kneeling pose opens space between vertebrae in the spine and stretches the supporting muscles and tendons, which can help loosen up the back.
Yoga Poses to Avoid
While the right scoliosis exercises can help alleviate secondary effects such as pain, the wrong ones can actually make the condition worse.
Physical therapist Christa Lehnert-Schroth has seen many scoliosis patients damaged from performing improper exercises. “In some cases our patients had performed bad exercises for years before coming to our clinic, and their condition was far worse – and more difficult and time-consuming to correct – than if they had done no exercises at all,” she said.
When practicing yoga for scoliosis, avoid the following poses, which can have detrimental effects:
Bending backwards: Many common yoga poses hyperextend the middle back, including cobra, half moon, locust, and sun salutation. These can actually increase the spinal curves in scoliosis patients.
Twisting the torso: The spinal twist pose should never be used when performing yoga exercises for scoliosis. When the shoulders and rib cage are twisted against the pelvic girdle, the motion can exacerbate the contortions present in a scoliotic spine.
Bending the rib cage: Bending the rib cage forward, sideways or backward can also cause the curves to worsen in patients with scoliosis. Yoga poses such as the side bend, triangle, seated twist and sage twist fall into this category.
Shoulder stand: This stance bends the head sharply forward, overextending the neck muscles, while the pressure exerted on the shoulders can drastically increase a rib hump formation. When selecting yoga exercises for scoliosis, leave this one out.
While yoga can help scoliosis patients manage their pain, it’s no substitute for exercises specifically developed for treating spinal curvature. Therapeutic scoliosis exercises can actually reduce the severity of curves by retraining the body to correct its own posture. The right scoliosis exercises can help patients avoid invasive treatments such as bracing or surgery.