scoliosis back pain Posted in: Understanding Scoliosis

Although a myth has persisted for many years that there isn’t a link between a curved spine and pain, doctors now recognize that scoliosis does, in fact, increase the chance of back pain in youth and adults. While it may seem counter-intuitive, exercising can actually help reduce and manage scoliosis back pain rather than make it worse.

Understanding Scoliosis Pain

Before we can go into how working out and keeping limber can offer pain relief, let’s dig into the basics of back pain from scoliosis.

Is it true that scoliosis causes back pain?

Rather than directly causing pain, scoliosis is often associated with pain because of how the body adjusts to living with a curved spine. Other areas of the back and body are often compromised, like our back muscles. When our muscles reach their max, pain starts to shows up like a check engine light in a car. Something isn’t working as it should. Some bodies can maintain function for long periods of time before pain shows up, while others with scoliosis might not have any pain.

Where does the pain come from?

When it comes to living with scoliosis, there are two anatomical explanations for pain.

  • Musculoskeletal pain is related to how the skeleton changes with scoliosis — like straining and overworking muscles — and is very common with idiopathic scoliosis.
  • Nerve pain is often experienced by people with degenerative scoliosis. As a spinal disc deteriorates, the body has trouble holding itself up, which can start to pinch nerves and cause sharp, radiating pains or numbness in the neck and lower back.

Does the severity of pain vary?

Scoliosis pain symptoms vary widely, and the amount of pain isn’t necessarily related to the severity of spinal curvature. Mild cases can be painful while severe scoliosis patients don’t have pain at all. Although, generally speaking, the larger the misalignment, the greater intensity of pain. For adolescents, it can sometimes be more painful if the torso and shoulders are shifted over the hips, due to the increased burden upon the muscles on one side of the body. Adults typically experience more pain if they have a forward head posture.

Helping Scoliosis Back Pain with Exercise

Now that you know more about the basics of back pain and scoliosis, here’s what you should know about using exercise to build strength and live more comfortably.

How can exercise help with scoliosis pain relief?

Unlike the advice from many years ago, we now say that sports and movement are a positive thing for people with scoliosis. In addition to keeping joints moving in the spine, arms and legs, exercise also strengthens the muscles affected by scoliosis. This reduces musculoskeletal pain because the body is able to better adapt to the spinal curve without maxing out muscles on one side or the other.  However, there are certain exercises and activities that can be detrimental and should be avoided.

How do the effects of exercise compare to bracing or surgery?

In many ways, exercise has the opposite effect of bracing, which offers short-term relief but leads to pain in the long-term because the body doesn’t build the strength it needs to maintain alignment after treatment. And when it comes to surgery, you might be surprised to learn that the latest research says there isn’t evidence that scoliosis surgery is better at relieving pain than non-surgical methods. The CLEAR approach uses exercise in complement to chiropractic adjustments and other non-surgical treatments.

Which sports and activities are safe for scoliosis?

A scoliosis diagnosis doesn’t have to mean giving up the activities you enjoy! Collisions sports and those with highly repetitive motions are more risky when it comes to spinal trauma, but a doctor or physical therapist with expertise in scoliosis can help you assess your case specifically. Swimming, road biking, dance, yoga, short distance hiking and running, and low-impact exercises and activities are all good options! Learn more in our big list of scoliosis workout question and answers.

What are some back exercises for scoliosis?

Because scoliosis back pain is closely tied to back muscles, stretching is a great place to start. Many stretches are performed simply standing, sitting or on the floor. We’ve also outlined six back exercises for scoliosis that help promote good spinal health. The most effective exercise program for your scoliosis will be one that’s developed with a medical professional who understands your curve, posture, muscle tone and the other specifics of your case.

Get started with a doctor-approved exercise routine:
 Find a CLEAR Doctor 

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with scoliosis, it’s very common to experience back pain as the body tries to self-correct in ways that overwork your muscles. Maintaining or building strength through sports and exercise is a part of living a healthy and active life with the added benefit of reducing your scoliosis pain and discomfort.

Which types of exercises have worked for your scoliosis-related pains? What else would you like to know before starting a new workout regime? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.

9 comments on “Scoliosis Back Pain and Exercise: 7 Things You Should Know”

  1. 1
    Jan Hardy on May 31, 2017

    Since I had Harrington rods put in at age 14(1972), I am limited on types of exercise because I don’t bend. I walk some; but need to do more…I’m not active enough. My current job requires me to raise my whole arm to the level of my shoulder blades in order to do filing. The pain I feel isn’t steady, but when I take a breath, it catches and feels like I am being stabbed-sharp pains next to the rod…do you know if there are exercises I can do at home with limited bending ability?

    1. 2
      Dr. Josh Woggon on June 1, 2017

      There are some exercises described on our website which might work for you: https://www.clear-institute.org/living-with-scoliosis/scoliosis-exercises/

      Try the Spinal Rotation exercise. Another good activity for people who have had the surgery is power walking, with 2 lb weights held in each hand. This helps to encourage the natural gimbal motion (the counter rotation of the hips and shoulders during forward ambulation).

  2. 3
    Kathleen Houvener on June 22, 2017

    I recently stumbled on this site and in shock about all the information available for scoliosis. My spine started to curve about 20 years ago, this after having 2 failed back surgeries. I thought it was because of them. Due to the degeneration and compression of the discs and finally osteoporosis I lost 4″ in height. To make a long story short over the years the curve progressed until a new Dr I went to told me what the problem was. At that time I was 28 degrees. I kept asking what I could do to at least keep it from getting worse and no matter who I asked they said there was nothing, no exercises, no nothing. I was referred to a scoliosis specialist at a very well known teaching college. Believe it or not he said the same thing but told me I could have surgery and he could do it right away. He actually thought I would schedule it that day ! I was 64 years old at the time so I had no desire to have a rod put in my back., sounded like a nightmare. I have gone swimming on a regular basis for approx. 25 years so I decided that’s the only hope I had was to continue swimming . A couple years after that I was referred to a Chiropractor that also said there were no exercises that would help but convinced me using the Spine-Core brace would do wonders. The xrays he took noted I had a large hiatal hernia which he said I should have checked out. From the beginning the brace had my stomach in so much pain it was unbearable to the point I gave up on it after a couple months. Shortly after that I had surgery for the hiatal hernia. My stomach had gone through the diaphragm and was wrapping around the esophagus. Its no wonder I couldn’t wear it. So, for the last 20 years have lived on pain medication, swam and that’s it. I have been reading every word on this site for over 2 hours totally amazed that there is so many things out there that might help. Even more amazed that out of all the Doctors I have seen over the last 20 years knew nothing about this ! Actually I find it disgusting that not even one knew there were some kind of exercises to do. Of course the curvature has increased but I can only imagine what it would be if I WASNT swimming. I found a Dr in my area, about 50 miles from here and will make an appointment immediately. I can’t thank you enough for all this information. I am 72 now and am very hopeful this program will help not only in the area of pain but also being so crooked. Thank you so much ! A happy camper in Oregon.

  3. 4
    True CBD on August 31, 2017

    Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as
    long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog?

    My website is in the very same area of interest as yours
    and my users would really benefit from a lot of the information you provide here.

    Please let me know if this ok with you. Thanks a lot!

    1. 5
      Dr. Josh Woggon on September 12, 2017

      Certainly, please feel free to share our information and link to our articles. We’re very glad to hear you find this information helpful!

  4. 6
    Vanessa on September 21, 2017

    Can you recommend any exercises for me? I have a 56 degree curve and constantly have one shoulder that’s always tight and in pain.

    1. 7
      Dr. Josh Woggon on September 22, 2017

      We have provided some general information about scoliosis exercises & stretches here: https://www.clear-institute.org/living-with-scoliosis/scoliosis-exercises/
      The CLEAR protocol also includes an individualized specific spinal isometric exercise program; however, these exercises are custom-tailored for each patient, and require that you be under the care of a CLEAR-certified doctor.

  5. 8
    Patti on November 18, 2017

    I have FRA, signs showed when I was around 16 by 26 I was a full time wheel chair user now I’m 51 and use a power chair all the time I only get of the chair to use toilet, I need help to do this, or shower once a week. I sleep in my chair. I have scoliosis a side affect of FRA. I’m at about 32 degrees. I have lower right back pain that started over ten years ago and is getter worse. I’ve seen multiple Neurologists, Pain doctors, Orthopedic sergons, GIs, Urologists, OBGYN for Endo resulting in Historectomy, still in pain.
    Is this pain from the scoliosis and if so what can I do?
    I can’t feed myself so PT or OT would be almost impossible.
    Suggestions?

    1. 9
      Dr. Josh Woggon on November 18, 2017

      I’m assuming by FRA, you are referring to Friedrich’s Ataxia, which is very commonly associated with scoliosis. If the back pain on your right side is related to the muscle imbalances caused by the scoliosis, it is possible that some chiropractic adjustments, supported by a brace or some ergonomic adjustments, might be able to alleviate the pain. While it might not be possible to implement the full CLEAR protocols & home exercise program, a CLEAR Certified Doctor could perform an evaluation and determine if some parts of it might be able to help you with your pain. I could not find any research on chiropractic & Friedrich’s Ataxia, but I did find an article in the Peoria-Times Observer detailing a case where chiropractic was able to help a young boy with FA: http://lacknerinnerspirit.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/PeoriaTimesObserver.jpg, http://lacknerinnerspirit.info/?page_id=173
      If traveling to a CLEAR doctor would not be an option, the next best course of action would be to schedule a phone consultation, and provide the CLEAR chiropractor with copies of your medical records, imaging reports, and other documents pertaining to your health history. They may be able to review your case in detail, and provide some suggestions. Due to the complexity of your case, however, there might be a charge for this service (depending upon the doctor).
      I hope this information is helpful; I wish I could do more. Treating scoliosis caused by Friedrich’s ataxia is very difficult; traditional methods such as bracing & surgery tend to have poor outcomes, and as you mentioned, exercise-based approaches are often impossible to implement. My heart goes out to you; if we can provide additional assistance in helping you to find a chiropractor with the suitable skills to help manage your scoliosis, or in any other way, please feel free to reach out to us at Care@CLEAR-Institute.org.

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