Scoliosis: Brace, Fuse, or Exercise?

by | Feb 3, 2010 | Back Pain, Health, Pilates | 10 comments

There is controversy over the use of braces to correct excessive curvature of the spine (scoliosis) in teenagers because research has failed to prove that they work.  “Bracing is regarded as effective by some and as useless by others.” According to Stefano Negrini, MD the scientific director of the ISICO (Italian Scientific Spine Institute) in Milan.

The cause of most adolescent scoliosis is unknown. It affects 3-5 out of every 1,000 children, and is more common and more severe in girls.

Scoliosis can be:

  • Idiopathic – Of unknown cause.
  • Functional – From poor posture and body alignment habits.
  • Structural – Caused by disease, or birth defects.

So why is bracing used if the experts aren’t positive it’s actually working?

Based on the severity some sort of treatment is required, because if left untreated damage to the spine, heart, and lungs can occur as an adult.  Bracing is less evasive and still allows the option to strengthen the body through exercise and movement to balance and support the spine.  The alternative option of surgery and spine fusion is a permanent and last-resort option to protect the health of internal organs and quality of life.

What else can you do to treat Scoliosis?

While studies so far show that none of these can prevent the progression of scoliosis, they may offer some relief of symptoms.

  • Manipulation by a Chiropractor, Kinesiologist, or Osteopathic Doctor
  • Electrical Stimulation
  • Diet & Nutrition
  • Exercise

The benefits of Pilates for clients with scoliosis

Over the years,  I’ve had many clients with varying degrees of curvature of the spine participate in Pilates programs.  And while there might not be documented research to the benefits of Pilates exercises for scoliosis…From my experience, I have seen amazing gains in strength, and mobility.  The curves  don’t  go back to normal, but it is possible to learn how to strengthen the body and retrain some of the weaker muscles to better support the spine and achieve more optimal muscle balance.  Plus increased body awareness of good and bad posture habits is vital to learn how to avoid falling into the poor alignment that the scoliosis curve would prefer.  Spend more time using your own muscles to strive for good posture through Pilates and other fitness exercises, and you’re retraining the body for better health.

Looking at the Difference in Support Options

A brace is an external support for the spine. If the brace is doing the work, our muscles don’t have to work as hard (and in my opinion….may become weaker over time.) But if you don’t have the muscle awareness or strength to properly support the body all day long…bracing may be required to assist.

Spine fusion surgery creates permanent internal support for the spine. (While this might solve one problem, it has the potential to create others) And generally speaking fusion surgery is a last resort option.

Exercise strengthens the core and back muscles so your body can provide it’s own  muscular support for the spine. Pilates  exercises with the focus on core stabilization, and functional mobility of the spine in all directions – flexion, extension, side bending, and rotation, and should be considered as a primary care option to assist in improving health and supporting the spine.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases continues to research and learn more about treatments for scoliosis to determine the best modalities for improved health.  I hope in time, that more documented research into the benefits of Pilates for scoliosis will be conducted.

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


  1. PATSY

    Tell me what can I do for cervical herniation?? can I still do pilates wthout agravating???I would prefer to avoid surgery as long as I can??? Patsy

    • Aliesa George

      Hi Patsy!

      Great question. Necks are tricky. Yes I believe that you can still do Pilates safely! BUT – I would encourage you to get your Dr.’s approval prior to starting, AND group classes would not be appropriate.

      Working one-on-one with a well-qualified Pilates teacher however, would be beneficial.

      There are probably some posture and body alignment things that need to be adjusted. and there are many, many Pilates exercises that can be done in a neutral position to keep your head and neck safely supported until things are more stable and are not causing you aggravation. Working one-on-one means that a personalized program can be created for you to keep you healthy and moving, and help get your body in better balance to help your neck feel better.

      Please keep me posted and let me know if there is anything else I can do to assist you!

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  4. juwan

    Hi! I’ve had scoliosis since i was a teenager and i’m now in my early 20s. it’s not progressing aggressively and i want to explore pilates as an option to help.

    would you know which is better for scoliosis, stott or polestar?

    • Aliesa George

      Hi There! In my opinion, not being either a Stott, or Polestar trained Pilates teacher, I would tell you that it’s not as much the training program (by brand) that a teacher has completed that is important, but the specific Pilates teacher’s knowledge, experience level, and understanding of the Pilates system, as well as the specific needs of the client that needs to be considered.

      There are great, (and not so great) teachers out there that have come out of lots of different training programs. Interview the teachers you are considering working with. Find out who they’ve studied with, how long they’ve done Pilates, how many hours they had to complete for their training, what other health, fitness, or rehabilitation expeience they have, and if they have experience working with clients who have scoliosis.

      It’s also always appropriate to ask for references and referrals. Can you talk with current and past clients to get a feel for their experience and the benefits they received from working with the Pilates teacher you are considering?

      You might also take a couple lessons with each of the teachers. Since you’re also comparing “styles” or different training backgrounds, you might find that you resonnate better with one vs. the other – and this will help you make the decision to pick the best Pilates teacher for you.

      Pilates should be great to help you stay strong, fit, and flexible, and you’re young enough that starting now will make a huge difference for your spine and scoliosis. If you have any other questions, let me know.

      Best of Luck to you in finding a great Pilates teacher to help you discover the benefits of Pilates. Keep me posted and let me know how it goes.

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  6. Scoliosis Symptoms

    I too have it and for me, running,sports, and excersise were all painful. I retired disabled at 47 as a result. My spine is degenerating. If I were you, I would take it easy on the strain I put on my spine. Sorry, we were born defective. I am now in 3 doses of morphine a day and anti inflamitories because I didn’t listen.

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    This is extremely helpful. I am working at least 11 hours a day and I have the tendency to have functional scoliosis but I am definitely thankful that I have come across this site as it helped educate me more about this disease. Thanks. If you need anything for health and beauty like weight loss supplements and the like, please take a look at this website, it might really help:


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