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Scoliosis Awareness Month: Pilates for Scoliosis

By Rika Brixie

June 29, 2021

June is Scoliosis Awareness Month. With Scoliosis Awareness Day taking place this past Saturday (26th June), there is no better time to turn our gaze to this popular topic in the Pilates world. Scoliosis is a three-dimensional curvature of the spine, consisting of both a lateral curvature and vertebral rotation. This combination of side-bending and twisting through the vertebrae creates an intricate spiral shape of the spine. Scoliosis can occur at any level of the spine, in varying degrees of severity. Some individuals have mild curvatures, which may go unnoticed for years, or present themselves during times of rapid growth or hormonal change, such as pregnancy. Others have curvatures of a greater magnitude, not easily mistakeable for muscular imbalance, and often diagnosed by a medical professional in childhood or early adolescence.

I was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 14. I was an avid young ballet dancer, and my mother, firstly, noticed the straps of my leotard laying unevenly on my back. I was referred, by my doctor, to an orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed me with idiopathic adolescent scoliosis. Idiopathic (meaning that there is no known cause) scoliosis, is the most common variety, accounting for 70-80% of all scoliosis. The severity of my curves meant that I was a candidate for surgical intervention, but, desperate for a professional dance career and besotted with movement in any form, I elected not to pursue surgery. Instead, my mother and I began researching holistic options for curve management and I ended up in my first Pilates sessions. The progression of a scoliosis can be uncontrollable, especially in a growing teenager, but these simple mat sessions, and the home program I was provided with, gave me a sense of control in my body when I felt as though my spine was betraying me by curving at it’s own will. I had great difficulty accepting my curvature and entered a phase of denial. Even then, Pilates was a constant fixture in my routine, it was the one thing that indisputably helped my body and it carried me through a ballet career that spanned Europe and the USA.

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Once I stopped performing and retrained as a Pilates instructor with the BASI Pilates Global Comprehensive Program, my relationship with my spine began to change. The instructors that I was surrounded by at BASI Pilates UK celebrated the capabilities of my spine, regardless of it’s spiralling shape. They recognized it’s strength and I started to consider that it might be something more than a “problem area”. Working with clients with scoliosis, I marvelled at the beauty in their unique skeletal structures, the ways that a curvy spine can move and the challenges that scoliosis presents, which I saw them conquer. Each individual I met with scoliosis, inspired me to develop a tailored approach, specific to each of their twists and bends, embracing, rather than working against, the shape of their spine. It is this process that lead me to create Pilates for Scoliosis – a BASI Advanced Education workshop, and the techniques that I teach in the workshop, in order to provide other instructors with the tools they need to benefit each and every curvy spine.

Some of the main areas of focus in a course of Pilates for Scoliosis are:

  • Proprioception and awareness:

Scoliosis creates many proprioceptive issues, as orienting the body around a curved spine makes it difficult to feel the alignment of the torso in space. Utilising tactile and visual feedback, use of assists and careful cueing is vital to improve awareness and help the client understand their own body.

  • Neutral postural alignment:

By directing the three-dimensional curves of the spine to the most neutral position possible for the individual during exercise, effective conditioning can then take place. Gains in strength will then support this more neutral alignment, as opposed to reinforcing the dysfunctional posture that can result from scoliosis.

  • Stability:

Excessive curvatures in a spine with scoliosis can often mean that the spine is relatively unstable, as it adjusts naturally through different planes of movement. Focus on trunk stability keeps the spine strong and avoids placing strain on the curved segments of the spine.

  • Mobility:

Some areas of a curvature will have reduced mobility, whilst other areas have increased mobility. Developing and maintaining balanced mobility through all segments of the spine offloads discomfort and helps to deter progression of a curvature over time.

  • Balance:

The asymmetries resulting from scoliosis will extend through the entire body. It is important to conduct a well-rounded session, utilising the BASI Block System, in order to address any and all imbalances that occur, not only surrounding the spine.

  • Unilateral work:

The difference between sides can be profound, and frustrating, during bilateral exercises. For this reason, unilateral exercises are often most beneficial to work on the two sides independently, building strength without compromising form before uniting the two sides in bilateral work.

 

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I have found Pilates to be an invaluable support system for those of us with scoliosis: Pilates empowers us; it helps us to understand the structures of our spines and how they move; it gives us tools to prevent pain and to deal with it when it arises; it promotes acceptance of our individuality and our curvy spines as a facet of that. I took a long time to grow to love my scoliosis and it is the great joy of my life to be able to observe others falling in love with their scoliosis too.

Happy Scoliosis Awareness Month!

Rika Brixie qualified as a Pilates instructor through Pilates Therapy and BASI Pilates CTTC. She is proud to be BASI Pilates Faculty, teaching the BASI Pilates Global Comprehensive Program, and her own BASI workshop ‘Pilates for Scoliosis’. Rika’s first and enduring passion in life is movement, which carried her through a career as a professional ballet dancer. Her personal experience of living with scoliosis has given Rika a unique insight into the deep workings of the body and ultimately led to her specialising in scoliosis. She is based in London, where she teaches alongside the phenomenal BASI UK team at The Pilates Clinic (Wimbledon).
www.rikabrixie.com

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