Rosemary Marchese, Physiotherapist
Is it okay for adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) to participate in swimming? And, if so, is the sport a viable ‘treatment’ approach for these growing children?
There are so many questions relating to sport and its appropriateness for these adolescents. AIS is already a complex three-dimensional condition where parents and patients are often left frustrated by the ‘wait and see’ approach (1). Swimming as a chosen sport, even without scoliosis, has so many potential health benefits and so it’s imperative to be well equipped to know the answers to the likely questions.
Despite swimming being advocated by many health care professionals as a treatment of choice for AIS, the opposite appears to be true – swimming is not effective in the conservative treatment of scoliosis (2, 3). Data from a cross-sectional study by Zaina et al (2015) showed that swimming seems to be associated with an increased risk of trunk asymmetries and hyperkyphosis. The authors concluded that any indication to use swimming as a treatment for scoliosis is unfounded, and in fact, they showed a higher prevalence of lower back pain in females who practised swimming (2).
Swimming is NOT a treatment of choice for AIS.
Link to main article: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25444007/
Berdishevsky H, Lebel VA, Bettany-Saltikov J, et al.: Physiotherapy scoliosis-specific exercises—a comprehensive review of seven major schools. Scoliosis Spinal Disord, 2016, 4: 1.
Zaina, F., Donzelli, S., Lusini, M., Minnella, S., and Negrini, S. (2015). Swimming and spinal deformities: A cross-sectional study. The Journal of Pediatrics, 166(1): 163-167.
Gonen Aydin C, Oner A, Hekim HH, Arslan AS, Oztas D, Akman YE. (2020) The prevalence of scoliosis in adolescent swimmers and the effect of swimming on adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Turk J Sports Med.;55(3):200-6.