This article was originally published on May 23, 2016.
Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine that can happen to anyone with no known cause. Having scoliosis causes asymmetry in the back both visually and muscularly. Usually one side will be much tighter while the other side is weaker. An imbalance in the back doesn’t necessarily have to be from scoliosis. It could be from playing golf or tennis, or carrying your baby or purse on one side–and the truth is that most of us are unbalanced to some degree!
An imbalanced back can lead to injury, nerve and tissue damage. The body was built to function as a whole and when one part is off, all systems can be affected. Joseph Pilates created Pilates not only as a form of rehab, but also to treat imbalances in the body just like scoliosis. The results of regular Pilates to treat his clients with scoliosis were incredible. People who could barely stand up straight were able to stand up tall and move nearly perfectly balanced over time. Correcting the muscular imbalance actually corrects the skeletal imbalance since the spine needs muscles for support. Whether you have minor scoliosis, major scoliosis or an ordinary imbalance from using one side more than the other, these exercises are sure to help you.
Roll Up– The original version of this exercise is done with your legs straight in front of you, but for more severe scoliosis, bend your legs with your feet flat on the mat for extra support. If your legs are bent, keep in mind that the farther your feet are on the floor from your body, the easier the exercise is. Lie down on your back with your legs either straight or bent and bring your arms over your head. Inhale as you use your abs to roll up with your arms first, followed by your head and spine. Peel your spine off the mat one vertebrae at a time as you reach for your toes. Squeeze your inner thighs together at all times. Once you are all the way up, exhale as you roll back down one vertebrae at a time. Go slowly so that you can pay attention to where your imbalance and weakness is. Do your best to control the movement down and roll evenly on both sides of your spine. Do 5-10 reps.
Rolling Like a Ball– This exercise is a real test to the symmetry of your back. Hug your knees with your arms around your ankles. Round your back into a C curve by pulling in your navel and drop your head to your knees, making sure your shoulders are pulled down into your back. Balance on your tailbone so that your feet are not touching the floor. Inhale as you use your abs to roll back onto your shoulder blades and exhale as you roll back up without letting your feet touch the mat. Try to roll evenly on both sides of your spine and land in the same position on your mat each time you come up. If the imbalance in your back prevents you from rolling evenly, you may place the feet on the floor each time you come up to help guide you. For a more basic version, you can place your hands behind your thighs or just practice rocking slightly back and forth on your back. Eventually you will be correcting your imbalance as you try to use the muscles on the weaker side to roll more evenly. Do 5-10 reps.
Swimming– This is an excellent exercise for strengthening the side of your back that is weaker. Lie on your stomach with your arms and legs reaching long. Start slowly at first, working one side at a time. Squeeze your glutes and lift your right arm up along with your chest and left leg. Hold it for 2-3 seconds and then lower everything back down to the ground. Repeat on the left side. You may continue to do this 10 times on each side, or 5 times on the stronger side and then 10 times on the weaker side if you have an imbalance. Once you feel more balanced in your back musculature, you may try lifting your entire chest, both arms and both legs off the ground. Swim continuously without letting them touch the ground. Swim for 10-15 seconds at a time.
Mermaid Kneeling– A stretch that will loosen the tighter side of your back. Kneel with your legs hip distance apart. Raise one arm up while the other is down by your side. Take a deep breath in and exhale as you stretch the arm that’s up over to the side. Make sure to anchor the knee that’s on the same side for maximum effectiveness. You may bend the top arm to try and touch your opposite ear for a more intense stretch. Pull your navel in so that your back is not arching. Think of lifting the arm up and out to stretch over and then out and up to return back to center. Use your obliques to lift you back up to center. Repeat on the other side and do twice as many reps on the side that is tighter. You may stretch each side 3-5 times.
More video tutorials by Crystal: 5 Balance Training Pilates Exercises
4 Stretches for Lower Back Pain & Stiffness
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Video: Crystal Chin