The Best Exercises for Scoliosis: Treatment to Help Straighten Your Spine and Ease Pain

Scoliosis is a postural misalignment that involves an unnatural lateral curvature of the spine. People who have scoliosis will likely differ in the degree of curvature and the location of the curvature along the spine.

Without addressing scoliosis, you could end up with muscle tightness and trigger points that develop into painful conditions and other posture problems.

The good news is that in most cases, scoliosis can be corrected with the right corrective exercises that help balance the muscles around your spine and shoulders.

If you experience back pain and are concerned you may have scoliosis, this post is for you.

In this post, you’ll learn what scoliosis is, what causes it, what problems it can cause and how you can fix it with stretches, massage techniques and strength training exercises.

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis – Curvature of the Spine

Scoliosis is a spinal condition whereby the spine curves sideways (as opposed to inwards and away from the body), forming an “S” or sometimes a “C” shape when looked at from the front or back.

It needs a diagnosis with an X-ray, and it’s found to occur in about 3 per cent of people in the United States [1].

Scoliosis film x-ray show spinal bend in teenager patient

Scoliosis occurs at a range of severity levels.

While the majority of cases are mild, spinal deformities that begin in childhood tend to get worse as the child grows, and it can become disabling.

Severe curvature at the spine can even affect lung function. Obviously, such types of cases require more serious treatment routes provided in medical settings.

Mild scoliosis, on the other hand, is not disabling but pain does often arise from postural stress.

When the postural misalignment goes uncorrected over time, muscles develop imbalances to compensate for the position. This can lead to stiffness, tightness and pain as some muscles are excessively contracted and others are overextended.

How Can You Tell if You Have Scoliosis?

The best way to test for scoliosis is to have an x-ray done at your doctor’s office.

However, there are some clues that suggest you could have it, such as:

  • Your head isn’t centred between your shoulders, indicating that your shoulders are uneven.
  • One shoulder blade sticks out (winged scapula) more than the other
  • Unlevel waist (a gap between arm and torso is larger on one side)
  • Unlevel hips, with one more prominent or higher than the other

Looking in a mirror, you can generally look for these signs, and if you have any of them, there’s a chance you could have scoliosis.

Scoliosis Test: “Adam’s Test” Forward Bend Test for Scoliosis

The Adams Forward Bend Test

There is a test for scoliosis that you can do from home called the ‘Adams Test.’ Do the “Adam’s Test” for scoliosis in front of a mirror or have someone snap a picture of you while doing it.

Wear tight-fitting clothing or be topless when you do this so that you can see your spine and shoulder blades when you look in the mirror or at the picture.

  • Stand with your feet together.
  • Bend your upper body forward at your waist. Don’t bend at your hips to bring your torso down toward your legs. Instead, focus on curving forward at the waist.
  • Let your hands relax downward by your sides and let your head drop and relax with the help of gravity.
  • Have an image taken or look in the mirror at an angle that is directly behind you, looking at your spine square-on.
  • If you have scoliosis, the curve will be evident in the way that you round forward, because one shoulder will be higher than the other. You may even be able to see the spine and see that it is curved instead of straight. [2].

Types of Scoliosis

There are various types of scoliosis, which affect the treatment plan that should be used to approach its correction.

Congenital Scoliosis

Congenital scoliosis is a type you’re born with, caused by a lack of full spinal development in the womb.

Early Onset Scoliosis and Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis

When scoliosis develops after birth up until the age of 10, it’s considered early-onset scoliosis.

Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is a type that happens in adolescents as they grow. It typically comes and goes, though there’s no known cause.

Degenerative Scoliosis (Adult Onset Scoliosis)

According to a study, over 60 per cent of adults over 60 has degenerative scoliosis to some level of severity [3]. Degenerative scoliosis forms over time in adulthood due to the degeneration of joints and/or spinal discs.

The facet joints are what allow your spine to twist and bend side to side. When these joints lose their health, there may be uneven degradation at the hip bones, causing the vertebrae in your spine to bend and shift to one side and cause scoliosis [4].

This is typically the case when scoliosis occurs in the lumbar spine. When it occurs in the thoracic region of the spine, it’s often caused by degradation within the spinal discs, causing the spine to tilt and bend at certain points.

Scoliosis Caused By Other Diseases or Conditions

Sometimes, scoliosis develops in people who have certain risk factors that predispose them to the distorted posture, such as people with:

  • Spinal injuries
  • Spinal infections like meningitis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Birth defects that involve the spine such as spina bifida

Scoliosis from Muscle Imbalances

Just like you can develop a spinal curvature from conditions like cerebral palsy, you can also develop curves from muscle imbalances.

These imbalances could be caused by past injuries that caused your muscles to compensate for muscles that were healing. Or, they could be from unnatural muscle-movement patterns or postures you’ve held habitually over and over again until your muscles became “stuck” in the imbalanced state of contraction or overextension they were in.

For example, sometimes carrying a heavy messenger bag on one side can cause you to tilt your spine to one side. Or, holding a toddler on your side just above your hip—you contract your side and lift your hip, curving the spine.

This article will focus on addressing this type of scoliosis. If you feel you have the other types mentioned in this section, it is advisable to make sure you see a medical professional before attempting any remedies in this post.


How to Fix Scoliosis Caused by Muscle Imbalances

Chiropractic Treatments : How to Straighten the Spine of Adults With Scoliosis

Fixing scoliosis involves doing exercises ideally every day, but at least a couple times a week, on a regular and ongoing basis.

Consistency is key to seeing results because it takes time to retrain your muscles. The exercises involve releasing tightness with effective massage tools and techniques, as well as stretching excessively contracting muscles and strengthening overstretched ones.

The other thing to keep in mind is that everyone who has scoliosis will have different degrees of curvatures in different locations. Not only that but some people will have spines that curve to the left or some to the right. You may very well have to modify the stretches and exercises to match the unique curvature of your own spine.

For example, you may have to stretch or exercise one side of your torso a little more than the other especially if you are doing unilateral exercises.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the exercises you can start doing to fix scoliosis, relieve pain and get a healthier back.

Massage Techniques to Release Scoliosis Pain and Straighten Your Spine

Whether a muscle is excessively contracted or excessively lengthened, the imbalance causes the muscle to be tight, taut and stiff regardless. That’s because overstretched muscles compensate for not contracting by becoming taut and rigid.

Massage and trigger point therapy on your back can help release muscle pain, lubricate and soften your muscles so they can heal and better rebalance as you correct scoliosis.

1. Use a Massage Ball Against the Wall or Floor

Massage balls are similar to foam rollers, but they apply compression to smaller, more pinpointed areas.

Counter your own body weight against a wall or the floor to compress your muscles against the ball and break up tightness in the back muscles above your hip, between your shoulder blades or wherever you feel pain.

If you have scoliosis in your lumbar spine region, you’re bound to have tight muscles in your lower back.

This massage ball technique can help you release tight muscles that have been held in unnatural positions due to scoliosis.

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent.
  • Place a massage ball, or even better, a double lacrosse ball, beneath your lower back.
  • Slightly roll the balls along your lower back by shifting your hips.
  • Adjust the balls, moving them apart and together, to feel around for trigger points you need to target.[5].

2. Decompress Your Spine With a Low Back Stretcher or a Foam Roller

If your spinal curve takes place in the lumbar (lower back) region of your spine, then use a low back stretcher to decompress your spine and gently stretch it.

Thoracic Spine Mobilizations with Foam Roller

If it’s the thoracic region (chest level) of your spine that is the most curved, lay on your back with a foam roller beneath your shoulder blades.

Let your chest open and upper back curve over the foam roller. Let the weight of your body combined with gravity increase the curve of your thoracic spine for a deeper stretch.

This decompresses the vertebrae in your upper back, helping them to heal and restore their natural state. It also takes the pressure off nerve roots and spinal discs that may be causing you pain.

3. Release Your Lats with a Foam Roller

How to Foam Roll Your Lats | Foam Rolling

If you have thoracic scoliosis, then one of your lats (the large back muscle that covers either rib cage under the armpit) may be tight.

  • Lie down on your side, and place your foam roller beneath your armpit.
  • Roll the foam roller up and down the length of your torso to release your lat muscle.
  • Whenever you notice a spot that really hurts when compressed, stay on that trigger point and move your torso forward and back on the foam roller just slightly instead of rolling it, to put added isolated compression on the trigger point that needs to be released.

Stretches That Fix Scoliosis

10 Best Scoliosis Stretches – Ask Doctor Jo

Stretching is a great way to improve circulation and promote healing in imbalanced muscles. It lengthens out overly contracted muscles and loosens up taut, overstretched muscles.

Here are 3 stretches you can do daily to help correct scoliosis and relieve back pain:

1. Foam Roller Side Stretch on Bed

This stretch helps reverse a sideways curve in your thoracic spine.

  • Lay on a bed on your side so that your head, shoulders and bottom arm are hanging off the side of the bed.
  • Let the bottom arm stretch down to the floor, and allow your shoulders and head to hang with the help of gravity.
  • Feel the stretch in your chest and let the muscles and spine decompress in this position for at least 30 seconds [6].

2. Exercise Ball Side Stretch

Fitball Oblique Stretch

This stretch loosens up your lat muscle, so you should do it on the side that your upper body leans toward. Do this exercise at least once a day to loosen up your lat and help reverse scoliosis.

  • Kneel on your knees on a mat with your back in a straight, upright posture and your weight distributed evenly between knees and the balls of your feet.
  • Hold a large stability ball against your hip on the side where your spine curves outward.
  • Lean over the ball until the side of your torso rests against the ball.
  • Hold this position for about 30 seconds. Repeat for 3 reps [7].

3. Downward-Facing Dog

Yoga for Scoliosis – Downward Dog adjusted for different scoliosis curves

Downward-facing dog is a well-known yoga pose that helps straighten out your spine. It works by squaring up your hips and giving your spine a gentle, decompressing stretch that helps straighten it.

  • Start in a forearm plank, with your elbows and feet on the floor and everything else off the ground. Try to make one straight line from your head to your heels.
  • Press one palm at a time into the floor in alignment directly under your shoulders, so that you’re at the top of a pushup.
  • Push your weight back into your hips and aim to put your heels on the floor. Make a triangle with the floor as its base and your butt as the top point.
  • Let the crown of your head drop so that your neck aligns with your spine.
  • Feel the stretch in your hamstrings, but also feel your spine decompress as your back muscles contract around your spine, holding it in a straight line.

Strength Training Exercises That Correct Scoliosis

Exercises For Scoliosis | Unilateral Back Training

Strength training exercises can help straighten your spine when you have scoliosis. Your muscles support the alignment of your spine, so by changing the state of your muscle tissue, you can actually correct your spine.

For example, the muscles that run along either side of your spine can be strengthened and bulked up to help keep the spine evenly and straightly aligned in a vertical column.

1. Foam Roller Back Stability Exercise

Foam Roller Balance Exercises

While foam rollers are typically used to release tight muscle tissue and fascia, you can use a long 36-inch foam roller in this exercise to promote a straighter spine.

  • Place the long foam roller vertically along your back, laying with it under your spine. Your tailbone should rest on one end of the foam roller and the nape of your nep should rest on the other.
  • Have your feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart, and your knees bent.
  • Keeping your core tight, circle your arms around in full big, circles in one direction, then the other.
  • Squeezing your core, lift one foot off the ground. Lower it down, and then lift the other foot. Continue switching sides.

2. Hip Bridges

Hip Bridge | Nuffield Health

Hip bridges can help level off imbalanced hips and scoliosis at the lumbar spine. They strengthen the lower back muscles on either side of your lumbar spine, promoting a straight spinal posture.

  • Lie flat on your back on a mat, with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat.
  • Squeezing your glutes, lift your hips off the mat so that you form a straight line going from your shoulders to knees.
  • Hold for 30 seconds or as long as you can before gently coming down.

3. Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlifts

How to: Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift

Kettlebell suitcase deadlifts work to tighten up one side, so that you can correct the curve of your scoliosis.

  • Stand with your feet open hip-width.
  • Place a kettlebell on the outer side of the foot that is on the opposite side of your outward curve.
  • Bend forward from your hips and keep your knees behind your toes.
  • Squeeze your lat to hold the kettlebell in place and keep an upright, neutral spine [5].

4. 3-Point Dumbbell Row

EricCressey.com: 3-Point DB Row

A 3-point dumbbell row targets the muscles between the shoulder blades on one side, and you can do them on the side where your spine curves outward.

It’s important these muscles get tightened and shortened with exercises like these.

  • Hold a dumbbell in the hand on the side where your spine curves outward. Put the opposite hand on a bench.
  • Standing up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend forward at the hips.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades back as you row the dumbbell upwards.
  • Slowly lower, then repeat for more reps [5].

How to Prevent Scoliosis

As with virtually any postural misalignment that develops slowly over time, certain lifestyle habits that were repeated for years are the cause behind scoliosis. Knowing what causes adult-onset scoliosis, you can reverse engineer the prevention of it.

Keep your muscles strong to avoid muscle imbalances, and keep your spine healthy to prevent scoliosis that is caused by spinal disc degeneration. You can keep your spine healthy by stretching it, decompressing it and strengthening the muscles that support it.

Scoliosis, even if it doesn’t seem serious, should never be ignored.

For people whose scoliosis developed over time due to bad posture habits and muscle imbalances, the corrective exercises in this post can help fix the problem over time.

Along with doing these exercises to fix scoliosis, there are some other conditions you should read up on such as how to fix uneven shoulders and how to fix a lateral pelvic tilt (uneven hips). You may find that you don’t even have scoliosis after reading these articles.

If you have another type of scoliosis or a medical condition, be sure to clear any exercises with your doctor before trying them.

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