Is it safe to run with scoliosis? Individuals with scoliosis are often confused as to which activities are appropriate with their condition. Heavy lifting, impact sports, and specific sleeping positions may or may not be advised against. Many also wonder if it is safe to run with scoliosis.
Scoliosis is defined as a lateral curve in the spine. Most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause of the occurrence. Girls are nine times more likely than boys to develop scoliosis and are also at a greatest risk of curve progression over time. Cases are classified in a variety of ways including number of curves, degree of curve, whether vertebral or rib rotation is present, and whether it is self-corrected with movement (non-structural or functional).
Like many orthopedic conditions, scoliosis ranges in severity. Usually diagnosed in adolescence or before, scoliosis is managed based on the degree of curve present. If the curve is less than 24°, observation is indicated. A 25-40° curve necessitates a brace. A curve greater than 40° requires surgical correction. In patients 16 years old and younger, scoliosis has a prevalence of 2-3%, with 0.3-0.5% reported for curves greater than 20°. This is all to say, the vast majority of scoliosis cases are mild and respond well to conservative care.
Physical therapy treatment for running and scoliosis often involves breathing interventions, chest and rib mobility, balance training, core endurance, Schroth exercises, nerve mobility, pain management techniques, and spinal stabilization. Curve corrective exercises may be incorporated in single leg stance to promote balance training. Understanding the curve and the degree of symptoms is key prior to creating a treatment plan, as well as making recommendations in activity level or mode, including running with scoliosis.
That being said, the evidence leans towards promoting physical activity and sports in individuals with scoliosis, whether brace-treated, surgically-treated, or non-surgically treated. Scoliosis as a condition is not actively considered a contraindication to sports participation. Brace-treated individuals may receive specific instructions from their doctor to exercise with their brace on. Regardless, running with scoliosis is not only feasible, but often beneficial. Cardiovascular exercise has a plethora of positive effects on overall muscle and joint health, as well as managing pain.
Potential implications of running with scoliosis include back or pelvis pain, discrepancy in leg length, muscle imbalances, and altered running form. However, some runners may never experience symptoms consequential of scoliosis in their training. It is entirely dependent on the diagnosis, degree of curve, and the individual’s unique characteristics related to running (cadence, form, training load, shoe choice, road surface, mobility deficits, etc.).
Usain Bolt, regarded as the world’s fastest man, has a significant scoliosis curve. He has said: “my spine is really curved bad…But if I keep my core and back strong, the scoliosis doesn’t really bother me. So I don’t have to worry about it as long as I work hard.”
We highly recommend a gait analysis to better understand your form, identify areas to work on, and reduce risk of injury or compensatory strategies while running with scoliosis. Working with a physical therapist to design an individualized exercise program to support your goals is an excellent way to begin running with scoliosis. Just as each scoliosis curve is unique, so is each runner. Professional evaluation of running form and training tolerance is a safe and effective approach to beginning a running program.
Green BN, Johnson C, Moreau W. Is physical activity contraindicated for individuals with scoliosis? A systematic literature review. J Chiropr Med. 2009;8(1):25-37. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2008.11.001
Tojima M, Osada A, Torii S. Changes in thoracic and lumbar spinal motions during running in a female with scoliosis. J Phys Ther Sci. 2019;31(10):855-859. doi:10.1589/jpts.31.855