|Reclining Nude, back by Henri Matisse|
"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."
Even a mild version of scoliosis can result in chronic pain of different types. While your pain could be in your back, it might also be in your hip (because scoliosis can make your hips uneven) or even your leg and/or knee (because scoliosis can make one leg “virtually” shorter than the because that hip is higher).
Baxter, who teachers Yoga for Back Care, has already written about scoliosis (see Friday Q&A: Scoliosis). But I decided to write about it today because 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. Some people just don’t think of it! I personally know of two cases of women with pain who didn’t realize they had scoliosis. In one case, the yoga student’s teacher casually mentioned, well, of course, you have scoliosis, because it was visible to his sharp eyes. She had no idea! And in another case, it was I myself who noticed it while I was assisting a fellow student doing a backbend. I just asked her, “Do you have scoliosis?” She was surprised I had asked, but we when talked afterward, it turned out she was having quite a lot of pain, including in her hip. So I encouraged her to get checked out by a health professional, and sure enough, she did have scoliosis.
Getting checked out is not necessarily a big deal. A health professional can do a visual test that is quite simple (he or she will watch your spine as you come bend into a forward bend), although in same cases, if your scoliosis is very mild, you may need an X-ray to detect it. But it is worth knowing the source of your physical problems because, yes, yoga can help. Even Jane Brody had a yoga pose recommended to help her:
Determined to minimize further shrinkage and to avoid pain and nerve damage, I consulted a physiatrist who, after reviewing X-rays of my misshapen spine, said the muscles on my right side, where the spinal protrusion is, were overdeveloped relative to the left. He prescribed a yoga exercise — a side plank — to strengthen the muscles on the left and exert enough of a tug on my spine to keep it from protruding farther to the right. He suggested that the exercise might even straighten the curve somewhat.
That pose sounds like Vasisthasana (aka Side Plank pose) to me! And there are whole lot of other yoga poses you can do to strengthen your back and balance your curve. So if you’ve been diagnosed with this condition, seek out a yoga for back care teacher who understands scoliosis, take a Yoga for Scoliosis workshop, or check out Elise Browning Miller’s web site (she’s a long-time yoga teacher who uses yoga to manage her own scoliosis) for info on her books and DVD and other resources.