Scoliosis Back Pain and Exercise: 7 Things You Should Know

Women with Scoliosis walking in park in the fall

Although a myth has persisted for many years that there isn’t a link between a curved spine and pain, doctors now recognize that scoliosis does, in fact, increase the chance of back pain in youth and adults. While it may seem counter-intuitive, exercising can actually help reduce and manage scoliosis back pain rather than make it worse.

Understanding Scoliosis Pain

Before we can go into how working out and keeping limber can offer pain relief, let’s dig into the basics of back pain from scoliosis.

Is it true that scoliosis causes back pain?

Rather than directly causing pain, scoliosis is often associated with pain because of how the body adjusts to living with a curved spine. Other areas of the back and body are often compromised, like our back muscles. When our muscles reach their max, pain starts to shows up like a check engine light in a car. Something isn’t working as it should. Some bodies can maintain function for long periods of time before pain shows up, while others with scoliosis might not have any pain.

Where does the pain come from?

When it comes to living with scoliosis, there are two anatomical explanations for pain.

  • Musculoskeletal pain is related to how the skeleton changes with scoliosis — like straining and overworking muscles — and is very common with idiopathic scoliosis.
  • Nerve pain is often experienced by people with degenerative scoliosis. As a spinal disc deteriorates, the body has trouble holding itself up, which can start to pinch nerves and cause sharp, radiating pains or numbness in the neck and lower back.

Does the severity of pain vary?

Scoliosis pain symptoms vary widely, and the amount of pain isn’t necessarily related to the severity of spinal curvature. Mild cases can be painful while severe scoliosis patients don’t have pain at all. Although, generally speaking, the larger the misalignment, the greater intensity of pain. For adolescents, it can sometimes be more painful if the torso and shoulders are shifted over the hips, due to the increased burden upon the muscles on one side of the body. Adults typically experience more pain if they have a forward head posture.

Helping Scoliosis Back Pain with Exercise

Now that you know more about the basics of back pain and scoliosis, here’s what you should know about using exercise to build strength and live more comfortably.

How can exercise help with scoliosis pain relief?

Unlike the advice from many years ago, we now say that sports and movement are a positive thing for people with scoliosis. In addition to keeping joints moving in the spine, arms and legs, exercise also strengthens the muscles affected by scoliosis. This reduces musculoskeletal pain because the body is able to better adapt to the spinal curve without maxing out muscles on one side or the other. However, there are certain exercises and activities that can be detrimental and should be avoided.

How do the effects of exercise compare to bracing or surgery?

In many ways, exercise has the opposite effect of bracing, which offers short-term relief but leads to pain in the long-term because the body doesn’t build the strength it needs to maintain alignment after treatment. And when it comes to surgery, you might be surprised to learn that the latest research says there isn’t evidence that scoliosis surgery is better at relieving pain than non-surgical methods. The CLEAR approach uses exercise in complement to chiropractic adjustments and other non-surgical treatments.

Which sports and activities are safe for scoliosis?

A scoliosis diagnosis doesn’t have to mean giving up the activities you enjoy! Collisions sports and those with highly repetitive motions are more risky when it comes to spinal trauma, but a doctor or physical therapist with expertise in scoliosis can help you assess your case specifically. Swimming, road biking, dance, yoga, short distance hiking and running, and low-impact exercises and activities are all good options! Learn more in our big list of scoliosis workout question and answers.

What are some back exercises for scoliosis?

Because scoliosis back pain is closely tied to back muscles, stretching is a great place to start. Many stretches are performed simply standing, sitting or on the floor. We’ve also outlined six back exercises for scoliosis that help promote good spinal health. The most effective exercise program for your scoliosis will be one that’s developed with a medical professional who understands your curve, posture, muscle tone and the other specifics of your case. See our podcast episode about exercises for scoliosis.

Get started with a doctor-approved exercise routine:

 Find a CLEAR Doctor 

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with scoliosis, it’s very common to experience back pain as the body tries to self-correct in ways that overwork your muscles. Maintaining or building strength through sports and exercise is a part of living a healthy and active life with the added benefit of reducing your scoliosis pain and discomfort.

Which types of exercises have worked for your scoliosis-related pains? What else would you like to know before starting a new workout regime? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.

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51 comments on “Scoliosis Back Pain and Exercise: 7 Things You Should Know”

  1. Since I had Harrington rods put in at age 14(1972), I am limited on types of exercise because I don't bend. I walk some; but need to do more...I'm not active enough. My current job requires me to raise my whole arm to the level of my shoulder blades in order to do filing. The pain I feel isn't steady, but when I take a breath, it catches and feels like I am being stabbed-sharp pains next to the you know if there are exercises I can do at home with limited bending ability?

  2. I recently stumbled on this site and in shock about all the information available for scoliosis. My spine started to curve about 20 years ago, this after having 2 failed back surgeries. I thought it was because of them. Due to the degeneration and compression of the discs and finally osteoporosis I lost 4" in height. To make a long story short over the years the curve progressed until a new Dr I went to told me what the problem was. At that time I was 28 degrees. I kept asking what I could do to at least keep it from getting worse and no matter who I asked they said there was nothing, no exercises, no nothing. I was referred to a scoliosis specialist at a very well known teaching college. Believe it or not he said the same thing but told me I could have surgery and he could do it right away. He actually thought I would schedule it that day ! I was 64 years old at the time so I had no desire to have a rod put in my back., sounded like a nightmare. I have gone swimming on a regular basis for approx. 25 years so I decided that's the only hope I had was to continue swimming . A couple years after that I was referred to a Chiropractor that also said there were no exercises that would help but convinced me using the Spine-Core brace would do wonders. The xrays he took noted I had a large hiatal hernia which he said I should have checked out. From the beginning the brace had my stomach in so much pain it was unbearable to the point I gave up on it after a couple months. Shortly after that I had surgery for the hiatal hernia. My stomach had gone through the diaphragm and was wrapping around the esophagus. Its no wonder I couldn't wear it. So, for the last 20 years have lived on pain medication, swam and that's it. I have been reading every word on this site for over 2 hours totally amazed that there is so many things out there that might help. Even more amazed that out of all the Doctors I have seen over the last 20 years knew nothing about this ! Actually I find it disgusting that not even one knew there were some kind of exercises to do. Of course the curvature has increased but I can only imagine what it would be if I WASNT swimming. I found a Dr in my area, about 50 miles from here and will make an appointment immediately. I can't thank you enough for all this information. I am 72 now and am very hopeful this program will help not only in the area of pain but also being so crooked. Thank you so much ! A happy camper in Oregon.

  3. Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as
    long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog?

    My website is in the very same area of interest as yours
    and my users would really benefit from a lot of the information you provide here.

    Please let me know if this ok with you. Thanks a lot!

    1. Certainly, please feel free to share our information and link to our articles. We're very glad to hear you find this information helpful!

  4. Can you recommend any exercises for me? I have a 56 degree curve and constantly have one shoulder that's always tight and in pain.

  5. I have FRA, signs showed when I was around 16 by 26 I was a full time wheel chair user now I'm 51 and use a power chair all the time I only get of the chair to use toilet, I need help to do this, or shower once a week. I sleep in my chair. I have scoliosis a side affect of FRA. I'm at about 32 degrees. I have lower right back pain that started over ten years ago and is getter worse. I've seen multiple Neurologists, Pain doctors, Orthopedic sergons, GIs, Urologists, OBGYN for Endo resulting in Historectomy, still in pain.
    Is this pain from the scoliosis and if so what can I do?
    I can't feed myself so PT or OT would be almost impossible.

    1. I'm assuming by FRA, you are referring to Friedrich's Ataxia, which is very commonly associated with scoliosis. If the back pain on your right side is related to the muscle imbalances caused by the scoliosis, it is possible that some chiropractic adjustments, supported by a brace or some ergonomic adjustments, might be able to alleviate the pain. While it might not be possible to implement the full CLEAR protocols & home exercise program, a CLEAR Certified Doctor could perform an evaluation and determine if some parts of it might be able to help you with your pain. I could not find any research on chiropractic & Friedrich's Ataxia, but I did find an article in the Peoria-Times Observer detailing a case where chiropractic was able to help a young boy with FA:,
      If traveling to a CLEAR doctor would not be an option, the next best course of action would be to schedule a phone consultation, and provide the CLEAR chiropractor with copies of your medical records, imaging reports, and other documents pertaining to your health history. They may be able to review your case in detail, and provide some suggestions. Due to the complexity of your case, however, there might be a charge for this service (depending upon the doctor).
      I hope this information is helpful; I wish I could do more. Treating scoliosis caused by Friedrich's ataxia is very difficult; traditional methods such as bracing & surgery tend to have poor outcomes, and as you mentioned, exercise-based approaches are often impossible to implement. My heart goes out to you; if we can provide additional assistance in helping you to find a chiropractor with the suitable skills to help manage your scoliosis, or in any other way, please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].

  6. I agree that activities and mobility helps with back pain. I see that swimming is often a good way to relieve this pain, as well. Thanks for sharing this detailed post on scoliosis and how to ease the back pain associated with it.

  7. Hello, I have less than 5% curve, but I do experience some pain in the upper and lower back, I have started going to gym, I don’t do any deadlift waits, but I would like to build up more muscles around my bones, Ian quite skinny, so putting some muscles will definitely help me looking better. Is there any doctor or website you recommend me to check for a better excercises plan to build up muscles while helping my body posture? Thank in advance for any recommendation.

    1. We have some basic exercises & stretches available here on our website, but the most effective exercise program will be one that is customized to your specific needs by a doctor who is familiar with your spine & posture For optimal results, we recommend that you schedule a consultation with a CLEAR Certified Doctor, or a local practitioner specializing in Scoliosis-Specific Exercises.

  8. I have almost a 19 degree curvature and sit at a desk job for 9+ hours a day not too long ago I could move and ex exercise normally and now,I feel as if I can barely even move without my back literally locking up and not being able to move,without horrible excruciating pain for at least a week after and am very afraid to bend/move much less exercise I would really love to build my back up to stop progression but also help with pain I feel as if I can barely go through my day now. Already had bracing in my teen years and now years later my whole top of my body is shifted or slumped over to the right. Any exercise for pain or strengthening? Lmease someone help o am terrified of surgery ane progression and am 26 makes me very sad becaude I feel like I cannot live a normal healthy active,life due to this

    1. Hello,
      Just like a small misalignment in a car's suspension can cause uneven wear & tear on the tires after a few thousand miles, even a mild scoliosis can cause imbalances that lead to problems with pain & muscle tension over time. Bracing sometimes helps prevent scoliosis from getting worse, but it doesn't reduce the curve that is already there, and most braces will make problems with the muscles worse, not better. The CLEAR Scoliosis Protocols were developed specifically to reduce, stabilize, & correct these problems, without bracing or surgery. A CLEAR Scoliosis Chiropractor will be able to provide treatment & exercises that are customized specifically for your spine, and show you how to modify your work station to prevent these problems from recurring or getting worse.
      If there is not a CLEAR Doctor near you, this article provides helpful information about traveling to receive treatment. In as short as one or two weeks, an Intensive Care Certified Doctor can get you back on the path to health, and show you specific exercises, stretches, & therapies you can do at home to improve your quality of life, maintain levels of function, and reduce pain.
      Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] or by phone at (866) 663-7030 for additional assistance or information!

  9. Anything please to help Without making bulging or slipped&deteriorating disks as well as curvature worse PLEASE SOMEONE HELP!

  10. Can you exercise with an eliptical trainer if you have scoliosis? I have severe pain in the morning and it gets better after the eliptical trainer and stretching and then comes back after sleeping? Any suggestions?

    1. Generally, exercising with an elliptical trainer is one of the better forms of exercise for someone with scoliosis. It is not as good as swimming (which simulates a weightless environment and takes tension off the spine), but it is better than jogging or other activities which involve repetitive compression & shocks.
      It sounds like your pain could be related to your spinal discs. The discs of the spine require motion to stay healthy and increase their water content & strength. As you sleep, the discs cool down, and this could be causing your pain to return. Try performing some of the exercises found on our Back Exercises page, particularly the Spinal Rotation Warm-up and the Spinal Molding cool-down. After doing these 2 or 3 times a day for a few days, if you notice an improvement, this would suggest that it is indeed the discs of your spine which are contributing to your pain.
      For a more comprehensive and patient-specific exercise plan, consult with a CLEAR doctor near you. Spending a week or two undergoing IC treatment can provide life-long benefits in the form of a home therapy & exercise plan, customized specifically for your spine, that you can perform on a regular basis to maintain & improve your spinal health!

  11. Hi, I'm 16 years old. I was diagnosed with scoliosis a year ago. here in Congo, treatment against scoliosis is rare and defiantly not very useful. when we discovered the disease, I had to wear a brace for 6 months but at the end, it didn't really help since we found out that the deviation was already 45 degrees. we went to see a traditional doctor, she help me during the holidays but her work wasn't permanent and the curve continued to grow. I was given a removable brave at the hospital with was sent from abroad but, of course, it wasn't my fit which led me to no over means of healing this disease. I'm determined to heal myself but for that I need advice, oh yeah, those back pains have stared a week ago and I'm really afraid that with the lack of technology here in Congo, I might finish with not getting any help at all. if anyone has a way of helping me find a solution to this dreadful disease without having to run to the hospital, help me out. Thanks!

  12. I've known that I have scoliosis for about 3 years now but I also have arthritis in my spine and bad legs, what exercises and/or stretches do you recommend? They are both in my lower spine

    1. Thank you for reaching out, Cassandra. Our goal is to stop the scoliosis from progressing, reduce it as much as possible and stabilize it. The program is tailored to each individual patient and is entirely based on your x-rays. The x-rays help guide our doctors on how best to perform your adjustments and your therapy with specialized scoliosis equipment. We also formulate an exercise program designed specifically for you based upon your x-rays. You can find the closest doctor near you on our website based upon your zip code/country who would be able to assist you in an exercise program for you. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

  13. Hi, I am 35 and was diagnosed with scolioais at 10. I had my operation at 13 and had Harrington rods fitted. At 18 my rod snapped and it was taken out. I suffered from occasional back pain, but now I'm in agony.
    The pain is in my back, my hips, it run down my lefs; even my feet.
    I feel so alone and was wondering if anyone else is experiencing this?

  14. Hi, my daughter of 10 was recently diagnosed with 21 degree scoliosis.

    She is doing her back exercises every day as the physical therapist prescribed.

    She is a competitive swimmer and athlete.
    Question: Are there swimming strokes that is not good to swim (eg, breast/fly). Will it be ok if she stop with competitive running, but still do 3-5km per week just for general fitness and training.

    1. Hello, Johnny,

      The type of scoliosis curvature she has would determine what activities could be harmful for her. Some scoliosis curve patterns do not do well with certain activities. I would suggest consulting with her primary care physician or Orthopedic to determine what activities she may want to avoid. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

  15. Hello, i’m 16 years old and I was diagnosed with Scoliosis two years ago. I wore a back brace every night until January last year. I still have two curves, one is 26 degrees the other 29 degrees. I’m still having back pain and shoulder pain whenever I stand for longer than 30 minutes without sitting in a chair without back support. Is this musculoskeletal pain? And should I go back to my orthopedic and tell him about it?

    1. Hello, Kanaan,
      It is most likely musculoskeletal pain from the scoliosis. Unfortunately, an orthopedic cannot do much more for you than prescribe the brace which you are already using and prescribe some type of muscle relaxer or pain pill. If you are looking at possibly exploring other options to help with your back pain, one of our CLEAR doctors would be happy to look at your x-rays to determine if you would be a candidate for the type of care we provide. I would suggest going to our website's "Find a Doctor" page to locate the CLEAR Scoliosis Doctor closest to you. Best of luck.

  16. My daughter had spinal surgery to correct her scoliosis on the upper portion of her back. She was and still is very pleased with it.
    She is looking for exercises in helping her maintain a stronger core and lower back.
    Can you please recommend any?

    1. Hello, Cindy,
      I'm happy to hear that your daughter is doing well following her surgery. The CLEAR scoliosis treatment that we do is very patient oriented. All exercises that we prescribe to patients are based on their individual X-rays and are customized to them. Without having any background on your daughter, having any x-rays or having done any treatment with her, we would be unable to prescribe exercises. However, if you would like to follow up with one of our CLEAR doctors closest to you for consultation and to show them her x-rays or have x-rays taken, they can most definitely prescribe customize exercises for her.

  17. I have an S curve for my scoliosis and recently, I've been experiencing lower back aches if I stay in my plank position for too long and it acts up randomly too. What should I do?

    1. Depending on the type of scoliosis curve pattern, some exercises are not recommended. I would advise having your spine evaluated to determine what exercises may be helpful and what exercises may be harmful for your spine. At CLEAR Scoliosis Institute, we prescribe an exercise program that is customized per the patient's x-rays. If you are wanting to strengthen your core and have an exercise regimen that is specialized to your spine, I would recommend contacting the closest CLEAR Scoliosis Center to you. This can be found on our website under "Find a Doctor". Best of luck to you.

  18. I had a 35 degree curb and a 16 degree curb around 9 years ago with a couple of messed up disc. The pain is getting so bad now and my hands and feet go numb but can't seem to get disability. I am now using over the counter meds and lidocaine patches but it only help a little. Do you have any advice on how I can get some help at this point I take jobs housecleaning for people that know I have to take breaks but it is not enough to live on.

    1. Hello, Kimberly,
      I am sorry to hear of the troubles you are having. Scoliosis can often lead to pain as a person ages. As far as help, I am unsure if you are asking for help trying to get disability or help with reducing the pain and managing the scoliosis. I unfortunately do not have any information as to how you can go about getting disability benefits. If you are looking for assistance with your scoliosis and reducing the pain associated with it, our CLEAR Scoliosis Institute doctors would be happy to look over your x-rays/MRIs and determine if you are a candidate for the type of care we provide. If you go to our website there is a section for Find a Doctor where you enter your zip code and it will help you locate the closest doctor to you. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

  19. hi ! thank you for the artical
    i have double scoliosis ( 48 ° up andd 42 ° ) i startes treatment in 2018 and i wore a very hard brace since that time whne i was about to have 16 years i wear it 24 /24
    now i'm 17 and a half i have a lot of pain in my cotes to my back if i lauph or have a deep respiration and i also get tiered easily
    i think that my brace is veeeeeeery heavy
    is there any thing i can do for pain ??
    and do you advice me by surgery ??
    could you give me informations about it please ??

    1. I am sorry to hear of your pain. Thank you for reaching out. Our CLEAR Scoliosis Institute Doctors are trained in working with the issues you are having. Typically, we try to help patients avoid surgery. I suggest visiting our website to find the closest CLEAR Scoliosis Institute Doctor to you for a possible consultation or evaluation to determine what possible options you have.

  20. Thanks for the knowledge shared about the scoliosis. Which sports and activities can cause the pain are very well explained. Thanks for the information shared in this regard.

  21. Oh my, I've believed in that myth for so long. I've suffered from back pain for some time now and according to this article exercise can help with scoliosis. Will start with the lumbar extension exercise. Thank you for the info.

  22. Great Job. You know what?

    I read a lot of blog posts and I never heard of a topic like this.
    This is so chock of helpful information and I can't wait to start utilizing the resources you have given me.

    1. Hello, Anna,
      In an attempt to stabilize your back muscles, you have to remember a scoliosis spine functions differently from a person's spine who does not have scoliosis, so you have to be careful in what you are doing so as to not aggravate your condition. Before starting an exercise program like this, I would suggest consulting with one of our CLEAR Scoliosis Institute doctors who can formulate an exercise program for you specifically for your scoliosis and your spine. Our doctors customize your exercise program based on your specific exercises to help with stabilization and to prevent further muscle asymmetry due to the scoliosis. I would suggest you have a consultation at the office of one of our CLEAR Scoliosis Institute doctors to help you with this. The doctor closest to you can be found on our website under "Find a Doctor". Best of luck to you.

  23. It's good to know that swimming and road biking are great sports for individuals with scoliosis. My daughter was recently diagnosed with scoliosis, and she'll undergo treatment next year as soon as we find a reputable clinic. She's part of the swimming team, so she would be happy to know that her sports would not be risky for her condition. Thanks.

    1. Hello, Della,

      I'm sorry to hear that you're no longer able to do much because of scoliosis. The best way to get help is to contact a CLEAR-certified doctor. Even if there isn't one near you, you can speak with one of them about the issues you're having. You can find a list of all CLEAR doctors here. Best of luck.

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