Scoliosis and Yoga: The Big Picture

by Nina
I was looking at my scoliosis in an X-ray the other day. Yep, it was definitely there! I could clearly see how some of my lumbar spinal bones were actually rotated, though there was not much of a lateral curve. (Scoliosis is a condition of the spine in which some portion of the spine is permanently rotated and there is commonly one or two lateral curves in the spine, in addition to the normal vertical ones. Depending on the severity, this can cause mild or serious asymmetry in the body.) This rotation in my lumbar spine has caused a whole host of problems for me, including arthritis in both my right hip and my spine and pain in both areas. 

Naturally, this physical problem has had a big influence on what I’m physically capable of these days and also on what and how I practice when I’m doing yoga poses or even just sitting. So, while I’m not glad I have scoliosis, I’m glad I know that’s what I have and I’m glad I have information about it that I can use to find the best ways to practice for my body. 

Is this something you’re dealing with? One thing I do know is it is pretty common for scoliosis to develop, as it did for me, later in life as well as in adolescents. So, you may have recently developed it. In my post Late Onset Scoliosis is Common in Older Adults, I quoted Jane Brody from the New York Times:

"Although scoliosis is generally thought of as a problem of adolescents, who often require bracing or surgery to correct the curvature, the condition is actually far more prevalent in older adults. In a study by orthopedists at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn of 75 healthy volunteers older than age 60, fully 68 percent had spinal deformities that met the definition of scoliosis: a curvature deviating from the vertical by more than 10 degrees."

Today I started to wonder what percentage of the population has scoliosis, so I did some research. At first, I started seeing pretty low numbers, such as 2.5 percent of the adult population, which really surprised me because: a) that doesn’t jive with the numbers in the study cited in the New York Times article above and b) I personally know many people in the yoga community who have it. However, I then found this in Prevalence of Adult Scoliosis:

"The prevalence of adult spinal deformity and scoliosis is not well established, with estimates ranging from 2.5% to 25% of the population.1,2,3,4,5,6 A 2005 study reported mild to severe adult scoliosis prevalence as high as 68% in a healthy (no known scoliosis or spine surgery) population aged 60 years and older.7 Many cases of degenerative scoliosis are undiagnosed, but elderly patients often seek care because of back and leg pain that may be caused by scoliosis and associated spinal stenosis." —Lead Author, Adolfo Correa, MD, PhD, Supporting Author, Sylvia I. Watkins-Castillo, PhD

That made me think that the low number of 2.5 percent, which is so commonly referenced, including by us in the past, might very well be the incidence in children, as indicated by school testing, which would not only exclude the adult-onset population but may even exclude some of the children who were not properly diagnosed. (Some days I hate how there is so much out of date medical information circulating on the internet.) 

Not that I need an excuse to write about scoliosis, but after reading about those statistics I actually think it’s important to do so because there may be some of you out there who have it and don’t yet know it! I think it’s important for us all—students and teachers alike—to realize what a common problem this is. And if you (or a student of yours) are having mysterious back pain, hip pain, or leg pain, it’s worth being checked out to see if this is causing the problem. 

Because scoliosis is so common and can cause a whole host of side effects, we have been writing it about it on the blog for many years. One thing I’ve noticed is that we have several different articles on practicing Side Plank pose to improve your curve. This was based on a studies done by Dr. Loren Fishman (see Serial Case Reporting Yoga for Idiopathic and Degenerative Scoliosis). Here are links to the articles we have so far:

About Scoliosis

In Friday Q&A: Scoliosis Shari and Baxter describe what scoliosis is and provide some information about how to practice if you have it. (I see the statistics in there look at bit suspect—sorry about that). 

In More on Side Plank Pose and Scoliosis Baxter discusses double curves in scoliosis.

In Late Onset Scoliosis is Common in Older Adults I discuss how common late onset scoliosis is and recommend that people with unexplained back problems should get evaluated for this.

In Friday Q&A: One Leg Shorter Than the Other Baxter discusses how one reason for having one leg shorter than the other can be scoliosis and how you might practice if you have this condition.

Practicing for Scoliosis

In Friday Q&A: Yoga for Surgically Repaired Scoliosis Baxter answers a reader’s question about how to practice if you have had surgery for scoliosis.

In Side Plank Pose (Vastithasana) Could Reduce Spinal Curves in People with Scoliosis! I wrote about a study showing that practicing Side Plank pose on one side could help reduce the curve of your spine.

In Friday Q&A: How to Practice Side Plank Pose for Scoliosis Baxter wrote his recommendations for how to practice Side Plank pose if you want to use it to potentially reduce the curve of your spine.

In More on Side Plank Pose and Scoliosis Baxter discussed the problem of how to practice Side Plank pose if you have a double curve.

In Friday Q&A: Answers from Dr. Loren Fishman Baxter interviews Dr. Loren Fishman about the study he did on Side Plank pose and he clarifies why he chose that pose and why he recommended practicing it on one side only.

In Take the Side Plank Pose for Scoliosis I invited people to join me in practicing Side Plank pose according to Baxter’s recommendations. 

In Side Plank Pose for Scoliosis Challenge: Conclusions I announced the results of my experiment with practicing Side Plank pose for my scoliosis. 

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