Pilates Practice Can Improve Functional Scoliosis

by Shirley Archer, JD, MA on Aug 23, 2012

Mind-Body-Spirit News

Clients often seek out Pilates instructors to address postural issues or to alleviate back pain, and new research suggests that these clients may be on the right track. Poor alignment from asymmetrical movement patterns contributes to functional (i.e., nonstructural) scoliosis—a curvature of the spine that can cause back pain and difficulty accomplishing daily tasks. A small study of 31 female college students showed that Pilates training programs, designed to address functional scoliosis, significantly reduced the grade of scoliosis, increased flexibility and decreased back pain. Researchers randomly assigned subjects to a control group or to a Pilates therapy program that consisted of 1-hour sessions two times per week for 3 months. All subjects were sedentary; had functional scoliosis, back pain, and shortening of muscles in the posterior chain; and were willing and able to participate in the study. Spinal curvature, flexibility and pain were measured at the beginning of the study and after 3 months. All Pilates participants repeated the same exercise sequence with individual modifications for intensity and for side-bending exercises in the direction of the convexity of the scoliosis. Postintervention data showed that Pilates participants experienced a 38% improvement in the Cobb angle (a scoliosis measurement), an 80% improvement in trunk flexion and a 60% reduction in pain. Control group participants experienced no significant changes in any measured variables. Study authors were encouraged by the findings: “These results show that patients with non-structural scoliosis can significantly improve muscle shortening of the posterior chain and subsequently reduce pain levels in the spine using the Pilates method.” Participants did not experience any adverse effects. Monitoring the results of the treatment protocol for longer periods of time would be a valuable topic for future research, the authors noted. The study appeared in the Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2012; 16 [2], 91–98).