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Adult Scoliosis: Overcoming Pain and Keeping Your Spine Healthy

29 October 2018

If you’re an adult with scoliosis, a sideways curve in your spine, you may deal with symptoms like pain and fatigue on a regular basis. Left unchecked, scoliosis can get worse over time, but with a little care and attention, you can counteract the challenges and maintain a strong, healthy spine throughout your life.

In this article, we’ll get you up to speed on a few basics about scoliosis, then look at some great ways to give your spine some love, reduce pain and fatigue, and maintain your mobility.

Scoliosis 101

Scoliosis is estimated to affect over 7 million people in the United States, and it can cause a variety of issues including back pain, leg pain, breathing difficulties, insomnia, and fatigue.

The curve is often minor, with an angle of under 20 degrees, and usually does not require surgery or even bracing. Some cases don’t actually cause pain or other symptoms, and according the Cleveland Clinic, “The size or the location of your spine’s curve doesn’t predict whether or not you will have symptoms.”

80% of cases are “idiopathic,” meaning the cause is unknown. Most adults with scoliosis developed the condition as children, although adult onset can happen due to factors such as genetics, osteoarthritis, and spinal degeneration.

In fact, the chances of having scoliosis go up considerably as we age. According to Duke Health, more than 70% of adults over age 60 are found to have some sideways curvature in their spine.

Although no complete cure is recognized, many solutions can help prevent the condition from worsening as well as alleviate pain and other symptoms. For instance, contrary to what many people think, it is not only okay to exercise with scoliosis, but actually helpful in order to strengthen and mobilize muscles and joints, and keep them from sinking further into the curve over time.

Scoliosis Solutions

So let’s look at some specific habits, exercises, tools, and treatments for living and working with scoliosis.

Tips for Sitting With Scoliosis

At work, at home, in the car, or anywhere else you tend to sit, get in the habit of using good posture. Plant your feet on the floor, make sure your pelvis is level front to back, and sit up straight.

A good ergonomic chair can be expensive, but it may save you a lot of pain and discomfort. An ergonomic seat cushion is a great alternative and a more affordable way to turn an ordinary chair into a pain-reducing, spine-supporting throne.

You may also want to consult a chiropractor or orthopedic doctor about customized cushions or props that can help you maintain a balanced sitting position.

Tips for Standing With Scoliosis

Standing for long periods with poor posture can put extra strain on your spine, so take care how you stand. Distribute your weight evenly on both feet, and avoid putting your weight on your heels. Instead, position yourself so your weight is on the center of your foot or a little forward onto the ball. This will reduce the effect of gravity on your spine.

Wear shoes with good support for your particular feet. It’s important to know if you have high or low arches and get shoes that match. If you aren’t sure, have your feet checked by an expert. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean a doctor visit—a knowledgeable salesperson at your local running store may be able to give you sufficient guidance.

If your spinal curve is severe or you have significant tilt in your pelvis, you may want to consider a heel lift or special shoes. Consult your physician.

Lastly, use an ergonomic anti-fatigue mat to take compressive force off your spine and reduce strain on your legs and feet. You may be surprised how much more energy you have throughout the day.

Scoliosis and Computer Use

With scoliosis, it’s extra important to set up your workspace ergonomicallychange your position throughout the day, and take regular breaks to move and stretch.

Make sure your desk height relative to your body allows your shoulders to be relaxed down and your forearms parallel to the floor without much bend in your wrist.

Switch between multiple pointing devices and which hand you’re using. It takes some getting used to, but it will help prevent repetitive strain patterns that can exacerbate underlying conditions like scoliosis.

Exercise for Scoliosis

Pilates is a great exercise method for strengthening your core and balancing your postural muscles. Using props to support your joints and exercises targeted at key muscles, scoliosis-specific Pilates can help you learn more about your body and feel better in it.

Yoga can be another great form of exercise for scoliosis, helping to strengthen key areas like the legs, shoulders, and abdominals, and lengthen your spine.

Postural Training for Scoliosis

The Alexander Technique is a method of retraining habitual movements and postures that create tension and reinforce inefficient structural holding patterns like scoliosis.

According to the main website,“The Alexander Technique is a method that works to change (movement) habits in our everyday activities. It is a simple and practical method for improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination.”

The technique can be learned through classes or private lessons, and the site provides a global list of practitioners.

Scoliosis Gear

Rigid bracing has been used for many years to inhibit scoliosis in children, and remains the standard medical non-surgical recommendation, although the effectiveness is subject to debate.

Current medical standards don’t typically recommend bracing for adult scoliosis, and when it is suggested, it’s typically for pain reduction rather than correcting the curvature.

Adult braces tend to be softer and more flexible, and some brace manufacturers claim their products do help not only with pain but also curve improvement.

Some people with scoliosis also find pain relief and other benefits from general posture braces.

Therapies for Scoliosis

Any therapy that relaxes tight muscles and tissues or supports optimal joint position can be helpful for scoliosis. A few examples include massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, myofascial release, CranioSacral Therapy, and physical therapy, (and many more exist). Scoliosis-specific approaches may combine exercises and non-surgical therapies.

Yoga teacher Gina Florio shared her experience with scoliosis and offered tips for maintaining a healthy spine. She found that a mix of chiropractic and acupuncture work best for her along with her yoga practice. With some experimentation, you can find what works best for you.

Scoliosis is a common issue and should not cause too much concern or pain. It’s important to remember that you can and should remain active, while maintaining awareness of what activities may most help, or worsen, the condition.

Have you been diagnosed with scoliosis? How has it impacted your life and work, and what steps have you taken to address it?