Scoliosis is a medical condition in which a person's spine curves sideways in either an S-shape or a C-shape. It affects 3 percent of people around the world, mainly between the ages of 10 and 20. There are varying degrees of Scoliosis, with mild cases causing few problems and severe cases potentially causing breathing constraints or requiring bracing or surgery. It is not to be confused with poor posture, although that is the visible effect of having Scoliosis. Those diagnosed with any degree of Scoliosis will have to seek treatment to manage it as it can sometimes get worse with age. Early intervention offers the best chances of correcting the spine or at least significantly lessening the curvature.
One of the myths surrounding Scoliosis is that people who have it should not exercise. On the contrary, the right exercise can strengthen the muscles around the spine and can even treat mild scoliosis. There are professional athletes and even Olympians like Usain Bolt who were born with Scoliosis. Australian distance swim star Jessica Ashwood swam competitively for 20 years and has raced in two Olympic Games all while managing an S-shaped spine. There is no limit to what a person with Scoliosis can achieve in the world of sports, although the condition does pose extra challenges and considerations. The orthopedist or physical therapist will advise whether a person with Scoliosis is fit to play certain sports, and will also recommend what types of exercise they should do to stay in shape while managing their condition.
Swimming is ideal exercise for almost any level of Scoliosis because it’s significantly less jarring on the spine than other high-impact sports such as soccer or running. Buoyancy in the water would reduce the body weight and acting forces placed on the body, therefore putting much less pressure on the spine. The water also provides resistance, which will exercise the muscles in a similar way as gym machines and weights without adding pressure to the spine. Swimming strengthens generally the muscles on the whole back, so although it would not be able to specifically target the muscles around the curvature of the spine, it would help strengthen the whole back and reduce pain caused by muscle imbalance overall. Continued swimming will eventually improve muscle endurance and flexibility, aiding those with Scoliosis in their daily physical activities outside the pool as well.
While having Scoliosis will add to the challenges faced while swimming, it is not a condition that permanently prevents a person from ever enjoying the water. Because Scoliosis changes the shape of the torso, it may put pressure on the lungs and cause a person to have difficulty breathing. At first might lower their stamina while trying to swim laps, but over time, the exercise would strengthen their lungs and eventually improve their stamina. Swimming also teaches proper breathing technique, which will help manage some breathing difficulties caused by Scoliosis in daily life.
In general, exercising or playing in the water also provides stress and tension relief, which in turn helps with symptom management. Cool water improves circulation to the body's tissues, alleviating the back pain caused by the curvature of the spine and helping relieve or manage chronic symptoms. It is recommended that people with Scoliosis try swimming as they may find renewed energy in having a consistent form of exercise. Progress in swimming will also give them feelings of accomplishment and may encouragement them maintain a positive outlook both in and outside the pool.
Swimming is the ideal exercise to complement Scoliosis treatment, and in mild cases is the actual treatment used. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Scoliosis, reach out to our coaches with specializations in physical therapy by clicking the Book a Class button.