Is it right to lift weights with scoliosis?

From time to time, I have been asked similar questions about whether it is safe to exercise with a scoliotic spine.

Can I play sports if I have scoliosis?
Is it safe for my child to attend PE class if she has scoliosis?
Do I ever have the chance to workout at the gym?

Here are some exercise ideas for you.

Exercise can increase scoliosis severity?

Previous studies show that sport activity is a risk factor for juvenile scoliosis.

#Baseball players: A 33.5% incidence of scoliosis was reported in throwing activities.
#Swimmers: A research reported that there is a 16% incidence of scoliosis in swimmers. The spine is usually curved toward the dominant side.
#Tennis players: Of the juvenile tennis players, there is an 13% incidence of scoliosis.
#Dancers: There is a percentage of 2 to 24 in dancers with scoliosis.

Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash

However…it is not that easy to deform your spine with just some sport activities, there are some conditions that must be fulfilled:

  1. Long exercise/training hours: it takes time to change spine structure.
  2. Training at a young age: athletes who train at a young age have higher risks of scoliosis because of bone immaturity. The bones and joints cannot stand uneven muscle pull.
  3. Unilateral Training: the dominant side is stronger than the other, which increases muscle imbalance.

What should I do if I have scoliosis?

Scoliosis has been thought as “a deformity of the spine” and needs to be corrected immediately. The most suitable age for spine therapy is between 10–18, which the bones and growth plates are still active. For children and teens, it is necessary for them to receive therapy or brace correction as soon as possible.

As for adults, while the spine deformity rate slows down, there are still possibilities that make scoliosis severity progress:

  1. One with moderate scoliosis (over 30 degree) since childhood and did not receive any therapy at that time. If the muscles and soft tissues are not strong enough to stable the spine, it will continue to curve by a rate of 1 degree/ year.
  2. An elderly with a degenerated spine (uneven intervertebral disks, bony spurs) or muscle atrophy (weakened of spine muscles). According to statistics, the scoliosis population increases as the body ages. The percentage of scoliosis is 8 at the age of 25 and 68 at the age of 60 years above.

It shows that scoliosis progress with insufficient strength to maintain spine upright. Thus, to keep the body “in shape”, exercise is crucial.

Athletes with scoliosis

  1. Usain bolt, famous for setting the track and field world record, is born with idiopathic scoliosis. Spine deformity did not seem to influence running speed.

2. Natalie Coughlin is a national swimmer and a twelve-time Olympic medalist. She wad diagnosed of 27° scoliosis when she was 30 years old.

3. Lamar Gant is a 56-kilo powerlifter holding a record of 238KG deadlift. Idiopathic scoliosis did not stop him from training.

Scoliosis is not a barrier to them and should not be yours.
If you know well about your limits or decrease your wall of limitation, enjoying sport activities should not be a problem!

Things you should know while exercising/ weight training with scoliosis

Firstly, it is important to know that it is normal to have compensations during workout. The asymmetry spine curvature augments the compensations. So, don’t put too much effort just to make the barbell right.

A study in 2020 reported that the scoliosis subjects (over 40 degrees) had uneven paraspinal muscle activity during bent-over barbell row, lat pull down and romain chair trunk extension exercises. In addition, the muscle activity at the concave and convex of the spine variates with different exercises.

Secondly, instead of thinking about the correct alignment of the body all the time, try make your movement steady and consistent as the weight you carry increases.

If you don’t have any pain during workout, then correcting the compensations are not the first priority. Of course, if you aim to “correct your spine” or “making your spine straighter” feel free to make posture corrections anytime.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Thirdly, before you exercise with weight, be sure to work on your core and breathing.

Learning how to activate the muscles at the concave side is essential for every scoliosis patient. The body should have a good activation of the core muscles and diaphragm before moving on to weight training.

Fourth, seek help from professionals.

If you are still new to weight training or working out with weight, it is recommended to have someone professional beside you. Therapists and coaches can prevent you from unwanted injuries.

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References:
Trobisch P,Suess O, Schwab F. Idiopathic Scoliosis. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2010; 107(49): 875–84.

Omey ML, Micheli LJ, Gerbino 2nd PG. Idiopathic scoliosis and spondylolysis in the female athlete. Tips for treatment. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2000;(372):74–84.

Schmid AB, Dyer L, Böni T, Held U, Brunner F. Paraspinal muscle activity during symmetrical and asymmetrical weight training in idiopathic scoliosis. J Sport Rehabil. 2010;19(3):315–27.

Park Y, Ko JY, Jang JY, Lee S, Beom J, Ryu JS. Asymmetrical activation and asymmetrical weakness as two different mechanisms of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):17582.

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杜婉瑜 Diane

杜婉瑜 Diane

物理治療師 女性運動與姿勢矯正 physiotherapist, MS, CES 醫骼運動物理治療所 治療師 https://www.eager-physioclinic.com/