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Yoga for scoliosis

Scoliosis comes from a Greek word meaning “curved” or “bent” and today it has become the description of the most common type of spinal curvature. Scoliosis is simply when the spine bends sideways and rotates along its vertical axis. Severe scoliosis is when the curvature is greater than 45 degrees and is often treated with surgery. At levels less than this a brace is often used to correct the curvature and in the case of the many children with the condition the brace may be worn for 23 hours per day. Another popular bracing method involves attending two hour sessions, three to four times a week for four months and then lifelong exercises for 30 minutes a day. As researchers coming from Columbia University observed however, the fact that many scoliosis patients are adolescent girls the treatments are socially and emotionally painful. That is why their research showing that a simple yoga move may be of use is so promising.

The study involved people aged 14-85 with idiopathic scoliosis. After initial evaluation by a radiologist the subjects were instructed in how to do the yoga pose “side plank” where you lie on one side of the body with knees straight and propping the upper body with the elbow and forearm. In the first week they were instructed to do the side plank on the side that their spine was curved towards for 20 seconds each day. After that they were asked to do the move daily on that same side for as long as they could.

The reason for doing the plank on the side that the spine curves towards is that it strengthens the specific spinal muscles on the convex side that are needed to reduce the curve.

On average the subjects for one and a half minutes a day for six days a week for almost seven months. Over all the patients the average reduction in spinal curvature was 32 per cent but in those who did the side plank at least three days a week the average reduction was 40.9 per cent. As you might expect the improvement was greatest in the more supple adolescents who saw an average 49.6 per cent improvement compared to 38.4 per cent improvement in adults.

The study was not large enough to be definitive but it certainly suggests that for any kind of spinal curvature, asymmetrical yoga practice under the guidance of a trained practitioner could help to straighten things out.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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