If your child has scoliosis, it’s normal to worry about which activities are safe and what’s off limits. Many sports may seem too risky.
Scoliosis causes the spine to curve abnormally. While it’s one of the most common spinal conditions, myths persist about who is at risk and which sports are safe to play if you have it.
In general, it’s important for people with scoliosis to stay physically active, and they can reap big health benefits by being active without any increased risk. In fact, good core strengthening and stretching may decrease the risk of curve progression.
Before you start crossing sports off your child’s play list, you’ll want to know the facts. Orthopedic surgeon Thomas Kuivila, MD, corrects four common misconceptions about the condition.
Myth No. 1: Playing sports can make scoliosis worse
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, the most common type of scoliosis, often occurs between the ages of 10 and 16 — just when many children are eager to jump in to a smorgasbord of middle school and high school sports and athletic programs.
But don’t despair. Playing sports won’t make scoliosis worse. In fact, participating in sports that promote flexibility and core strength can actually reduce your child’s back pain, Dr. Kuivila says.
His top picks for sports that can help scoliosis include:
- Swimming, which can increase core strength since it requires your child to use all of his or her muscles at once
- Gymnastics, which can boost your child’s flexibility and improve core strength
Myth No. 2: Your child should avoid certain sports
“For the most part you can play any sport you like,” Dr. Kuivila says. “Even weightlifting is generally fine.”
However, if your child has had back surgery, he recommends avoiding contact sports. Sports to skip when your child has had back surgery include hockey, lacrosse, wrestling and football.
For sports such as basketball, soccer, tennis and swimming, your child can probably start participating in them again about six months after surgery. It’s important to talk with your child’s doctor first, he advises.
Myth No. 3: Heavy backpacks can cause scoliosis
Because adolescent idiopathic scoliosis often crops up at about the age when children are hauling heavy books back and forth to school, it has long been linked to backpack use. But there isn’t any truth to this, Dr. Kuivila says.
“Even a book bag filled with books won’t cause scoliosis or make existing scoliosis worse,” he says.
Myth No. 4: Girls are more likely to get scoliosis than boys
The adolescent form of scoliosis is often genetic, and it occurs in boys and girls equally, Dr. Kuivila says.
However, the myth has a grain of truth in it. Girls are more likely than boys to have severe scoliosis requiring treatment such as bracing or surgery.
“For every seven to 10 girls I operate on, there are only two to three boys,” he says.
Good to know: Genetic testing can detect who is at risk
The genetic component in scoliosis allows scientists to better predict who is at risk. So far research identifies at least 53 genes associated with the condition, Dr. Kuivila says.
Advancements in genetic testing allow you to find out whether your child is at risk, he says. But not all insurance companies cover the testing.
“Currently testing is in the early stages,” he says. “And while it can’t tell us who will get scoliosis, it can help us identify those who are at increased risk.”
And that’s important, because it can lead to earlier detection and, if necessary, intervention before the condition gets more serious, he says.