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Frequently Asked Questions on Yoga for Scoliosis

 

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What yoga postures do you recommend for scoliosis?

I don't know what yoga postures for good for everyone with scoliosis, but I've listed the ones below that have helped me the most. You have to keep in mind that you'd have to check with your health care provider to find out what exercises may be appropriate for you, especially if you have significant spinal curvature or any other health limitations. Also, I firmly believe that yoga poses have to be tailored to a person's individual needs. I took generic yoga classes on and off for many years and the general yoga postures did nothing to improve my scoliosis.

My scoliosis did not improve until I found a set of exercises, yoga postures and trigger point therapy tailored to my individual needs. I developed my set of exercises for spinal curvature with the help of a physical therapist with expert skills in body alignment, and from my own collection of books on yoga and posture.

I've found it is important to not do any exercises that hurt, even a tiny bit. The PTs who used to have me do exercises to "work through the pain" just made me worse. Pain is your body's way of telling you "don't do that". The exercises that have helped me the most are ones where I could feel a gentle stretch. If I don't feel a gentle stretch or strain, I suspect the poses are not doing much for me. And if they hurt at all, I stop doing them immediately. I've never, ever had any benefit from doing any yoga pose, or any treatment of any kind (chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, etc.), that hurts.

 

partial shot of a woman in forward bend yoga pose

 

In the book, Backache Relief: The Ultimate Second Opinion from Back-Pain Sufferers Nationwide Who Share Their Successful Healing Experiences by Arthur C. Klein and Dava Sobel, the authors surveyed people with back problems, including a group with scoliosis. Based on their survey results, the authors concluded that the best self-help therapies for scoliosis pain were number one, yoga and, number two, swimming.

The best professional treatment for scoliosis pain was listed as yoga instruction. The best practitioner for scoliosis pain was listed as a yoga instructor. Of the eight people with scoliosis who tried yoga, 100% found it helpful. Interestingly, 65% on the patients consulting orthopedists for scoliosis pain reported orthopedic treatment ineffective (for adult, nonsurgical cases).

 

If you have scoliosis, do you have spider veins and varicose veins down your legs like I do? In my case these veins break out at tension points down my leg. I use them like a road map to figure out where my muscles are the tightest. If I start to get new spider veins, then I know I'm doing the yoga postures or other exercises too hard, so I cut back on the yoga and do more trigger point therapy (described in my fibromyalgia treatment section) until I can get the spasms out of my legs.

The book Back Care Basics by Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D. was the one I found the most helpful for my scoliosis. It is written by a doctor who is also a yoga instructor. She discovered yoga as a solution to her own back problems and found it to be so helpful she decided to teach classes in it, including yoga classes to people with scoliosis. The book is helpful because it has: 1) a chapter to help people determine exactly where there muscles are tight and need extra work; and 2) a chapter just on yoga poses for scoliosis, which is hard to find.

Another good yoga book is Structural Yoga Therapy: Adapting to the Individual. I found this book filled with excellent information on how to balance your muscles and free your joints. The drawbacks are that it is fairly complex to digest and it doesn't have as much specific information on scoliosis as the Back Care Basics book. I think it would be good choice if you are a yoga teacher or an experienced yoga practitioner interested improving your scoliosis as well as aligning your entire body. If you are more interested in a basic book with pictures of different poses and some general guidelines of which poses to do for scoliosis and related back and neck problems, the Back Care Basics book is best.

If you want to know muscle by muscle how to balance the muscles in your body and see many diagrams of what is going on "under the hood" with your muscles and joints when you do different yoga poses, then the Structural Yoga Therapy book would be a good book to get. (Although these are the only two books I recommend for scoliosis that are "officially" yoga books, there are a number of other books listed in my exercises for spinal curvature section that incorporate yoga poses into their treatment plans.)

Listed below are selected yoga postures from the Back Care Basics book that I found particularly helpful, rated on scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being the most effective and 1 being the least effective.

Elbows on Table - A good gentle back stretch to help elongate my spine. (5)

Chair-Seated Forward Bend with Torso Support (5)

Chair Seated Twist with Torso Support - I twist to both sides, but I hold the pose on my side with the concave (shorter muscles) curve longer. (5)

Supine knee chest twist - Excellent for stretching out my concave side. This exercise was very helpful for raising my lowered shoulder and reducing my neck and TMJ pain. I had to work up to this pose, though. At first my muscles were too tight to get my knees to the floor so I would put pillow on my side so my knees didn't have as far to stretch. Now I can do the pose without the pillow, but it took a year or so to get there. (10)

Crocodile twist - See comments for Supine Knee Chest Twist above. (10)

Passive Back Arch - One of the top poses for me. I not only had scoliosis, but I had a condition called pectus exacavtum (a sunken chest), too. I realize now I probably had both scoliosis and PE from having tight muscles across my chest and back and soft bones in my rib cage and spine as a child. Surgery partially corrected my rib cage, but did not address the underlying cause of the PE - tight chest muscles. This exercise is great for stretching out tight chest muscles. This has also helped my neck and TMJ pain by reducing muscular tension on my neck and shoulders (10)

One Leg Up, One Leg Out - A favorite posture for both both of my sons and me. Part of the reason I had scoliosis was because I had muscular tension in my legs which pulled on my torso and neck. Over time I believe this caused my spine to buckle into a scoliotic curve. This pose is great for reducing muscular tension in my legs. (10)

Standing Twist (5) - This one feels good for getting rid of tension in my spine.

Wall Push - Initially I could not do this pose at all. It literally gave me a pain in the neck. But after freeing up my lowered right shoulder, which was a major source of my neck pain, I can do this pose now and it feels good, giving a gentle stretch to my back and legs. (7)

Downward-facing Dog - I do the chair variation as the floor variation is too intense for me right now and puts my back legs in spasm. (7)

Sacral Rock I & II - These two poses are also good for sciatic pain. I had problems with sciatica on the side of my body with the concave (pushed in) curve. (5)

Supine Cobbler's Pose (5)

Pirformis Stretch (3)

One Elbow Up, One Elbow Down - I hold this pose longer on when my elbow is "up" on the side where my shoulder if lower. It helps to raise up the lower shoulder and lower the raised shoulder, bringing them into better alignment and muscular balance. (10)

Kneeling Backbend is a good stretch for tight muscles in the chest and thighs. (5)

Seated Twist - has helped to reverse my thoracic twist. I just twist in the opposite direction of the way my body had been twisted. It sounds so simple and obvious know, yet none of the doctors or physical therapists I ever went to ever suggested it. I wish I had known about this pose years ago. The twisted thorax has been the easiest of all of my alignment problems to correct. (7)

Forward Triangle Pose - I had to work my way up to this pose, but now its a good stretch for my back. I do this one every time I do laundry, as my washing machine is just the right height to bend forward and rest on. (5)

Selected poses from the book that I don't do (yet):

In general I don't do many of the standing poses yet because they tighten my legs too much. I also don't do a lot of strengthening poses or poses with outstretched arms because of thoracic outlet syndrome. My goal is to work up to be able to do most, if not all, of the poses in the book. I'm not at that point yet, but with each month of yoga and trigger point therapy my body gets more and more aligned and I find that I can do more of the poses.

Yoga sit ups - this hurts my neck so I don't do it.

Easy bridge pose - my leg muscles tend to get overly tight, so I avoid this pose.

Kneeling lunge - I don't do this one because it hurts my knees.

All fours - puts too much tension on my back.

Revolved Triangle Pose - puts too much of a strain on my legs muscles, which are probably still tighter than they should be despite my best efforts. I'm working up to this pose by just reaching to my knee for now.

 

 

 

Related Pages in My Site

Scoliosis Alternative Treatments (Exercise, Diet & Yoga)

Books and Tips with Scoliosis Exercises

How Balancing My Muscles Helped My Spinal Curvature

Yoga for Scoliosis - Frequently Asked Questions

Alternative Therapies for Scoliosis

Scoliosis Cause: Clues From Associated Conditions

Does Physical Therapy for Scoliosis Help?

 

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