Scoliosis is defined as a lateral curvature of the spine. A normal spine curves inward in the lumbar region and outward in the thoracic region in the mid-back. When the curvature begins to develop laterally, it can affect muscles, nerves, other bones, and even organs.

The most noticeable symptoms of scoliosis are: 1) unequal shoulders and/or pelvis height and 2) one shoulder protruding more than the other. The possible complications of scoliosis are varied, but not serious in the vast majority of cases. As the spine bends sideways, the vertebrae lean into the curves and the discs between them experience uneven pressure. This leaves people with scoliosis susceptible to early disc degeneration. Some people may have mild respiratory complications, as a curve in the thoracic spine affects the position of the ribs.

Many people do not experience muscle pain due to scoliosis, as the condition develops in childhood and the body grows to adapt to it. Disc-related pain is the biggest concern for people with scoliosis who want to maintain a high level of activity.

Cardiovascular exercise is an essential component of a healthy life. Keeping the heart and lungs in optimal physical condition allows large volumes of oxygen-rich blood to flow to the body’s tissues, keeping them healthy and strong. People with scoliosis may find this type of exercise difficult, as the spine is a high-impact area.

Common forms of cardio, such as running and cycling, can be painful for people with scoliosis. When running, the body transfers forces to the ground, which corresponds to a force on the body. The spine experiences a significant amount of compression when running, which could be detrimental for people with angled vertebrae. The same goes for riding a bike; each irregularity in the ground shakes the spine.

Cardiovascular exercise is not out of the realm of possibility for people with scoliosis. Since the curved spine is sensitive to shock, forms of exercise that keep the heart rate up without stressing the spine are ideal. The following are considered safe cardio exercises for scoliosis:

1. Water aerobics: Exercising in water is ideal for anyone with back pain and spinal problems; the water takes the weight of your body, leaving your spine unloaded. It is also ideal for both bodybuilding and cardiovascular training, as the density of the water resists the movement of your body. This keeps your muscles, heart, and lungs working hard. Swimming is the most common aquatic exercise, but aqua aerobics classes offer more varied workouts.

2. Elliptical training: Elliptical machines provide the benefits of running without the jarring effects. This machine allows you to slide instead of run, freeing up your spine.

3. Climbing machines: These machines allow you to climb like climbing stairs, but with less force transferred through your feet to the rest of your body.

4. Walking: This low-intensity exercise is ideal for those who want to maintain a healthy body. However, it may not satisfy those looking for an intense workout.

If any of the above are causing you pain, you may simply be pushing yourself too hard. Start slow and work your way up to more intense workouts. Cardio is essential for people with scoliosis. Knowing which exercises will benefit you and which ones will hurt you is one of the most important components of managing your back pain. See for a list of exercises to avoid.

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