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Teaching Yoga for Scoliosis

Yoga can be a powerful healing tool for students with scoliosis. Here's everything you need to know to help them ease their aching backs.

By Elise Browning Miller

As someone who has lived with scoliosis, and dedicated much of my life to teaching students with scoliosis, I can attest to the power of yoga to help manage and treat this condition. If you are interested in working with students who have scoliosis, you'll need a basic primer on the condition as well as some specific asana suggestions to treat it.

What is Scoliosis?

Perhaps the most dramatic of spinal aberrations, scoliosis appears in cave paintings of prehistoric man and was first treated with braces by the Creek physician Hippocrates in the fourth century B.C, Not only does it create spinal deformity and rib displacement, it twists the shoulders and hips and shifts the body's center of gravity. Its most obvious symptoms are cosmetic, but pain and cardiopulmonary complications (due to compression of the heart and lungs) are also common. The word "scoliosis" is derived from the Greek word skol, which means twists and turns. In scoliosis, the spine forms an S curve (or reversed S) from side to side down the back, and at the same time the back of the spine rotates toward the concave side of the S, twisting the rib cage and making the sides of the back uneven. (To observe this effect, bend a hose into an S shape and observe how it rotates at the same time.) Particularly when this curvature occurs in the mid-back region, the ribs compress on the concave side of the spine and spread apart on the convex side. On the concave side, the attached ribs are pushed sideways and forward, while on the convex side, they collapse toward the spine and move back, thus forming the characteristic rotation of the rib cage. The ribs on the convex side often protrude posteriorly, and over this protrusion there frequently develops a tense, painful mass of muscle tissue.

Four Major Scoliosis Curves

Curvature can take place anywhere in the spinal column but generally follows four common patterns. In a right thoracic scoliosis, the major scoliosis is concentrated in the thoracic (mid-back) region, and the spine curves to the right. (There may also be a counter curve to the left in the lumbar region, but this curve is less severe.) In a left lumbar scoliosis, the major curve is to the left and is concentrated in the lumbar (lower back) region, though, as shown in the diagram, there may be a less extreme counter curve to the right in the thoracic region. A third type of scoliosis is the right thoraco-lumbar, where the major curve is to the right in the thoracic and lumbar region. The last type of curvature is the right thoracic-left lumbar combined curve, where the major curve is to the right in the thoracic region, with an equal counter curve to the left in the lumbar region. For unknown reasons, 90 percent of thoracic and double curves are right convexity (curve to the right); 80 percent of the thoraco-lumbar curves also are right convexity; and 70 percent of the lumbar curves are left convexity. Seven times as many women as men have scoliosis.

Structural and Functional Scoliosis

Scoliosis can be either structural or functional. The structural variety is much more serious and develops as a result of unequal growth of the two sides of the vertebral bodies. It usually appears during adolescence, and its causes are not well understood--approximately 70 percent of all structural scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning doctors do not know why they develop. Functional scoliosis only affects the back muscles and does not structurally alter the body. It can result from such things as poor posture or repeated unbalanced activity, such as always carrying books on one side. It is much more common than structural scoliosis, usually much less noticeable since the degree of curvature is less, and almost always reversible.

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Reader Comments

Tori

Thankyou! This was very useful for me

tracey

can you send me some information on scoliosis because i'm doing a term paper on it thanks Tracey
traceymorrissey@hotmail.com

Chris

Sarah,

I thought this info might help your hubby enjoy yoga a little more...

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