Swimming as Exercise for Scoliosis
Scoliosis, which results in curvature of the spine, may range in severity from mild to severe. Although some people develop scoliosis at a very young age, it most commonly begins just before puberty, during the growth spurts that occur during this time. Severe cases of scoliosis can be disabling, affecting a person’s ability to walk, run or even breathe when the spine causes the ribs to press on the heart and lungs. Several types of exercise, including swimming, are beneficial for a person with scoliosis.
Swimming is a beneficial exercise for someone with scoliosis because the movements are not jarring and there is less pressure on the spine. Swimming creates buoyancy, which reduces body weight forces acting on the body. The water also provides resistance, which can work your muscles and improve endurance and flexibility. Swimming with scoliosis can help to build the muscles of your arms, legs and back, which could improve your overall balance and muscle strength.
According to NYU Langone Medical Center, scoliosis may lead to chronic back pain if left untreated. Swimming benefits those with scoliosis because it provides cooling water that improves circulation to the body’s tissues. Additionally, swimming provides a form of stress relief and can help to release tension, possibly reducing some chronic pain. The person with scoliosis who wants to try swimming may find renewed energy and vigor as well as a positive outlook and feelings of accomplishment.
Depending on how severe the case of scoliosis, swimming may be challenging. Most people with scoliosis can participate in sports, although some movements may be difficult because of the affected muscles. Additionally, for those with severe scoliosis that affects the lungs, swimming competitively or for long distances may be difficult because of reduced lung capacity. Some types of swimming strokes could be tough initially when using the back and arm muscles, but most people with scoliosis are able to swim, even with modified movements.
Although swimming can be good for you if you have scoliosis, it does not change the shape of the spine. Treatments such as back braces or surgery may help to prevent further curvature of the spine and worsening of the condition. If you must wear a back brace for your spine, you will need to remove it to go swimming. Additionally, if you have back pain associated with scoliosis, using your back muscles while swimming may or may not help ease some discomfort. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist about the benefits of swimming for your condition.
Meg Brannagan has worked as a registered nurse for more than 10 years, specializing in women's and children's health. She holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.