Let's Talk about Stretching for Scoliosis
First of all, what is scoliosis?
According to the Mayo Clinic:
Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that most often is diagnosed in adolescents. While scoliosis can occur in people with conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, the cause of most childhood scoliosis is unknown.
Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but some curves worsen as children grow. Severe scoliosis can be disabling. An especially severe spinal curve can reduce the amount of space within the chest, making it difficult for the lungs to function properly.
What are the common symptoms?
Also, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Uneven shoulders
- One shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other
- Uneven waist
- One hip higher than the other
- One side of the rib cage jutting forward
- A prominence on one side of the back when bending forward
With most scoliosis cases, the spine will rotate or twist in addition to curving side to side. This causes the ribs or muscles on one side of the body to stick out farther than those on the other side.
What Causes Scoliosis?
Doctors don't know what causes the most common type of scoliosis — although it appears to involve hereditary factors, because the disorder sometimes runs in families. Less common types of scoliosis may be caused by:
- Certain neuromuscular conditions, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy
- Birth defects affecting the development of the bones of the spine
- Previous surgery on the chest wall as a baby
- Injuries to or infections of the spine
- Spinal cord abnormalities
Although both boys and girls develop mild scoliosis at about the same rate, girls have a much higher risk of the curve worsening and requiring treatment.
When people have minor or major scoliosis, one primary complaint is back pain and so it is very common to look for back stretches for scoliosis if you are suffering with it.
But what really are the best stretches for scoliosis and are there even any stretches to relieve scoliosis pain?
I am reminded of a scene from Outlander... I am sure many of you have watched the series with Clare and Jammie and Clare's time travel to pre-British occupied Scotland.
When she first arrives, the 'Laird' of the castle she ends up at is suffering from Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome - a degenerative disease that severely cripples his legs. When he discovers Clare is a 'healer' (she's really a licensed medical nurse from the 20th century) he asks her to massage his legs because his previous healer has left. Clare agrees but suggests that rather than massaging his legs, she might massage his lower spine and sacrum to give him even greater relief... and of course she is right.
I bring this up, because it is so indicative of our tendency to directly interface with a symptom, the place where we feel the discomfort, rather than looking for the cause, which is often far removed.
When it comes to scoliosis, at Bendable Body we recommend going to the root cause, which is not the spine itself.
How do you stretch out scoliosis?
If you want to get long lasting relief to your scoliosis, the best stretches to do are for your hamstrings. And if you haven't read our blog post on the The Pelvis and Hamstrings, I strongly suggest you do.
The hamstrings are 3 muscle groups that attach to the base of the pelvis and the inside and outside of the knee at the lower leg point. By design these muscles are very tough tissue. They easily accumulate unhealthy fascia and one of the worst things you can do for your hamstrings is sit for too long (something that is unfortunately very common in our modern, device, car driven world).
The reason stretching your hamstrings with resistance, especially the central hamstring, has such a big impact on scoliosis is because of the impact the muscle group has on the positioning of your pelvis based on where it attaches to the pelvis and the force it exerts because it is such un-yielding, tough tissue.
In short, whatever is going on in your hamstrings, directly impacts the position of your pelvis which in turn directly impacts the alignment in your spine and therefore, scoliosis.
When the hamstrings are full of dense, unhealthy fascia, they get stuck in various positions, they don't contract and lengthen through a range of motion, they may be held in a twisted position as well. All of this gets mimicked in the spine. And what is scoliosis - it is a twist in the spine. Over the years we have observed at Bendable Body that most people have at least a mild form of scoliosis because most people have large amounts of unhealthy fascia in their hamstrings. The way to solve the problem is to remove some of that fascia through resistance stretching.
In addition to stretching your central hamstring, stretches for the IT band and Adductors are also very important for improving scoliosis. The IT Band is responsible for rotating the hips side to side. So when the IT band is hard and immovable with unhealthy fascia, it locks the hips in poor alignment which adds to the discomfort of any twist happening in the spine from scoliosis.
The adductors are not directly impacting the alignment of the spine, but they have an important relationship with both the central hamstring and the IT Band. When the adductors function properly they provide space for the central hamstring to rotate and for the IT band to shorten and lengthen. So if you want to see big improvements to the flexibility of your central hamstring and IT band, and get relief from scoliosis, you will have to do some adductor stretches as well.