Scoliosis and Dancers
Scoliosis is a disorder that affects many people. It can interfere in daily life but it does not have to. Dancers are often affected with this disorder, but are fortunate in the fact that their art will assist them in keeping it under control.
What is Scoliosis?
The spine is constructed of vertebrae in five sections: the cervical, thoracic, lumber, sacrum, and coccyx (Butler). It naturally curved to flow with the body's stance. From the back it should appear as a straight line from the base of the skull to the coccyx. Scoliosis is the unnatural curvature of the spine that can form either a C or an S shape. If the curve is large enough, it can be visible through the skin.
There are many signs that are able to pinpoint the disease early in life such as uneven shoulders, one hip being higher than the other, one shoulder blade being more prominent than the other, an uneven waist, and a possible twisting in the ribs. This condition is not caused by poor posture, backpacks, diet, exercise or a lack thereof as many people believe (Mayo 2). It is possible that the origin is genetically based, but the main cause of scoliosis is not currently known.
Risk Factors and Detection of Scoliosis
Scoliosis tends to begin at an early age. If detected early, there are things that can be done so the condition does not worsen. However, if left untreated, this can cause serious health issues such as spinal arthritis, inability to breathe and make it difficult for the heart to pump. Usually these conditions do not occur unless the spine has a curvature of seventy degrees or more.
In order to begin treatment and keep the spine from worsening, there are various tests that can be given. One such test is done at a child's physical for school. This is called the Adams Forward Bend Test. The physician has the patient bend at the waist and release the tension in their neck. They then use their fingers to feel down the spine for abnormalities if they are not immediately visible.
Females are at a higher risk for developing as are young children.
The location of the curve does have bearing on the severity of the curve. Curves in the mid to low back are generally less serious than those in the upper back between the shoulder blades.
Example of Scoliosis Brace
Severe scoliosis is treated with either surgery or a back brace that needs to be worn for a number of years. For mild scoliosis there really is no treatment a physician is able to give. Mild scoliosis is generally classified as a curve of ten degrees or less.
The muscles supporting the spine become uneven in strength as they try to accommodate the curving spine. This means the vertebra are constantly have pressure put on them by the muscles. So even what is classified as 'mild' scoliosis can be painful. Since there is no known medical treatment for this disorder, there are other more holistic options available.
Dance is a great way to help lessen the pain in the back as its primary focus is alignment and core strength. Core strength does not just depend on the stomach muscles, but also the latissimus dorsi and surrounding muscles.
The newest strengthening program is Pilates. This also focuses on the core and alignment but in a different manner. There are three types of Pilates
They vary in small ways, but at the foundation is still Joseph Pilates' method. Another connection between the spine and dance/Pilates is that Martha Graham (one of the great innovators of modern dance) helped develop the Fletcher method of Pilates.
Benefits of Dance for the Spine
Dance is focused around alignment, strength and being limber. Keeping the spine and muscles moving allows the vertebra to decompress and takes the pressure off of the muscles attached to the spine.
Ballet in particular focuses on alignment. When standing at the barre, it is important to be standing straight with the coccyx lengthened towards the floor. The rib cage needs to be closed rather than popped open and shoulders need to be relaxed.
Jazz and Contemporary both apply a great deal of emphasis on flexibility. Jazz also encourages alignment and Contemporary focuses primarily on the core and the movement of the back.
Pilates is not necessarily considered dance, but holds many of the same principles as ballet. The focus is spinal alignment, core strength and taking pressure off of injured areas. The biggest difference is Pilates is practiced on special machines or mats with a great emphasis on building strength.
All dance forces the body into alignment as well as keeping the muscles limber and keeping them from tightening around the spine.
Inspiration for Dancers with Scoliosis
Photos of Stretches
Examples of Basic Stretching and Strengthening for the Back
- Stand with feet slightly larger than shoulder width apart.
- Place arms into a T
- Bend at waist and reach to both right and left
- Reach over leg and hold on both right and left
- Sit with bottom on heels
- Lean forward reaching arms out in front
- Drop head
*if you lay on your back with your knees pulled into your chest this is an inverted shell stretch*
- Most people are under the impression that this stretch is only for the legs, but it is also for the sides and back
- Sit with your legs in a V
- Be sure legs are straight and the baby toe is towards the floor
- Sit with arms in a T
- As you stretch to the side be sure the opposite hip stays securely on the floor, arm reaches to corner and arm is back so your face shows and it is flat across your chest
- Stand with feet directly under shoulders
- Tuck chin forward onto chest
- Roll down one vertebra at a time reaching for the floor
- Relax your neck
- Repeat by rolling up
- For the side tilt head, keep chest flat across and roll evenly down spine on each side
- Begin by sitting on knees
- Knees need to be directly under hips and slightly apart
- Hands need to be under shoulders with palms flat on the floor
- Pull stomach in to engage muscles and pull tailbone and head towards center
- Breath in and as you breath out release to original position with stomach still engaged
- Lay on your stomach.
- Have someone with hold your feet or wedge them securely under something so they won't move
- Put hands one on top of the other directly on forehead with nose to floor
- Pull stomach in and lift straight up still looking at floor
- Release back down
- Do a few of these then pull the shoulder blades together put your hands at your sides palms up, then out in a goal post with fingertips in line with the eyes
Thank you so much for reading! I myself am a dancer that suffers from double scoliosis. If you have a story you would like to share or things that have worked for you I would love to hear from you.