In early pubescence, some children develop a condition called scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. This curve could take on the shape of a C or an S and may range from mild to severe. Measured in degrees, you would consider a mild curve in single digits, while a severe curve refers to one measuring 20 degrees or greater. The condition can affect an individual’s ability to walk and run. If the spine curves so that the ribs press into the lungs, the individual can experience breathing difficulties.

Since this disease develops during the growth spurts just before puberty, many countries have implemented in-school screenings in the late grammar school grades to catch its development early. Early treatment can reduce or eliminate the curvature in mild cases and limit it to more severe ones. About three percent of the population has received a diagnosis of scoliosis.

Many doctors recommend exercise as a part of scoliosis treatment, and they prescribe specific activities. These include sit-ups, push-ups, pelvic tilt, and learning to swim. More severe curves require the patient to wear a back brace to realign the spine or to at least stop the curve from worsening. The most severe cases require surgery to straighten the spine by inserting a steel rod in the back so that the vertebrae cannot misalign. In general, the treatment always includes some form of exercise to strengthen the muscles of the back, arms, and legs.

Exercise for Scoliosis

Done properly, sit-ups, pelvic tilt, and push-ups help straighten the curve and build the muscles in the back. This activity helps hold the vertebrae in the proper place. In some mild cases, a regular exercise routine can reverse the curvature or lessen it.

Those with moderate to severe cases may find regular exercise challenging so the doctor may recommend exercising in water. Water creates buoyancy, reduces pressure on the spine, and reduces the force on the body. Weightlessness can make some movements easier.

In general, physicians recommend patients with scoliosis avoid sports that use one side of the body more than the other, such as golf, tennis, and figure skating.

Swimming as Exercise

Swimming as exercise for scoliosis does not reduce the curvature. As a part of scoliosis treatment, physiotherapists in Singapore and other areas recommend it as a no- to low-impact exercise that most individuals with the condition can do. The water resistance helps the patient to develop flexibility and endurance.

It also can help to alleviate some chronic back pain associated with the disease, states the NYU Langone Medical Center. Cold or cool water improves circulation, and the exercise helps relieve muscle tension.

While it comprises an important part of physiotherapy, the patient may also benefit emotionally since learning to swim builds a sense of accomplishment. Swimming as exercise can help the individual develop self-confidence.

Quick Facts

Swimming as exercise for scoliosis works for most individuals, but depending on the severity of the spinal curve, the patient may need to swim with modified strokes or movements. At the outset, before the arm and leg muscles have developed and strengthened, some movements may be complex or tough. Those with affected lungs may find long distances swims or competitions difficult.

Individuals who wear a back brace as a treatment must remove it before swimming, then put it back on after showering. Swimming as exercise for scoliosis does not treat the condition.

The main trigger for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is development and growth. The brace helps to align the spine as the patient grows. A swim session typically lasts about an hour once per day, so it does not interfere with brace treatment.

An individual with scoliosis should not swim competitively since this requires four to six hours of water workout per day. This amount of swimming forces the body into an unnatural position for an extended period of time and can produce negative consequences.

Before You Start to Swim

While swimming as exercise provides many benefits, you should check with your doctor before you begin any exercise routine. While that is true for every person, it remains more so for those with a scoliosis diagnosis. Your doctor can examine you and determine which exercises or sports would most benefit you and which might do harm. Water exercises typically help with pain and provide an exercise that develops the muscles symmetrically.

You should not attempt to replace existing doctor prescribed treatments with learning to swim or any other exercise. Also, if swim sessions won’t work as an exercise for you, do not give up on finding a sport that you can do. You may preserve at a sport you love as competitive swimmer Jessica Ashwood did, but few would recommend putting off spinal surgery until your late 20s as she did. You may find a way to compete as a runner with scoliosis as Olympian Usain Bolt did. Consulting with your physician lets you determine what sports would be right for you and how best to proceed. Each patient differs. Your exercise routine or sports depend on your spinal curvature as well as the treatments used in its reduction.

If you do begin to swim for exercise, you may find that you need to modify strokes as Ashwood did. Sticking with it and trying all of the strokes from breaststroke to butterfly can help you find and master the one that works for you. Ashwood developed a freestyle stroke built for speed and holds two speed records in her native Australia. The examples of she and Bolt show that even with a diagnosis of scoliosis, you can participate in sports.