Ask The Trainer #30 – Overcoming Scoliosis


Hi Chad! Good to see you here! So, after having a big family, I was diagnosed with adult scoliosis in mid 40’s. I just wonder what you think about how much can be “halted”, if not changed in the curvature, as an adult? I have been a fanatic (working out, etc.) for years. But, unfortunately, after the pregnancies, my health isn’t wonderful now. I am hypothyroid and have celiac disease. My diet is wonderful. My thyroid levels are ultimate. I find that working with maximum weight really helps with the pain and discomfort associated with the curvature. I’ve been told by mainstream doctors that this is about all I can hope for. Thank you for your insight.

God bless. Janet Lee



I always feel honored when I hear my presence is well received! I’m sorry to hear about scoliosis. I understand the challenges associated with this condition all too well. When I was in middle school orthopedic doctors actually wanted to fuse my entire spine! This involves installing steel rods to support the fusion.

My parents and I had some major issues with this game plan, so we collectively decided to pursue alternative options that proved to be very effective.Moving forward, your limitations in the gym will depend on 2 things I’ll describe below.

1. What degree of curvature do you have in your spine?

For example, any curve under 10 degrees is considered normal and shouldn’t be too problematic. Curves from 10-25 degrees are relatively mild but need be monitored. These can be problematic, requiring a little more caution to work around. Curves from 25-40 degrees may require a brace to help prevent the condition from worsening. This type of curvature can be very problematic and will require continuous monitoring on a long-term basis. Not mention it may result in more significant limitations. Curves 45 degrees and over are crippling; major surgery is usually required.

2. What type of scoliosis do you have?

Scoliosis comes in 2 lousy flavors. Functional scoliosis is where another issue causes the curve, such as uneven leg lengths. The other is Structural scoliosis. There are two main kinds of structural scoliosis – 1) Congenital (present at birth) and 2) Idiopathic (unknown cause). It’s important to know what kind you have. If you have functional scoliosis, chiropractic care could work wonders for you the way that it did for me. Shoe lifts can help if the cause of the scoliosis is due to uneven leg lengths. But, there can be many causes of functional scoliosis.

Chad ShawSince I’m NOT a doctor, I’m not familiar with all of them. My issues were both functional and structural, as I was born with abnormal curvature in my spine, plus one leg 4 inches shorter than the other. Lucky me!

I believe you when you say weightlifting is helping to relieve your condition. And I found core training to be extremely productive! I know that in recent years the term “core training” has been beaten to death. However, it definitely serves a valuable purpose, especially for people with scoliosis.

Work The Core

Core muscles work to stabilize our spines and keep us upright. Abdominal muscles wrap around to the lower back and spinal erectors, aiding in better posture to help prevent injuries.

The better conditioned your core muscles are, the broader the range of exercises you will be able to perform. For example, my spine could never handle deadlifts before. That is, not until I began making a conscious effort to strengthen my core and abdominal muscles.

Weightlifting made a world of difference to me personally. However, I did go through a rather lengthy process of trial and error to determine which exercises helped and which actually worked against me.

Weightlifting probably won’t reduce the curvature in your spine. But, if it’s done properly—and cautiously—you could help prevent your condition from getting worse. Plus, the additional strength may also reduce your pain and symptoms significantly.

You Can Do It Too

I see no reason whatsoever why you couldn’t still obtain a maximum level of muscularity, despite having scoliosis. I did it… so why not you? Once you determine which exercises you can safely work with (mostly) pain-free, you’ll have the capability to stimulate the maximum amount of muscle.

There may be a few exercises your body won’t let you get away with. That’s fine. Just focus on the exercises you can do. As you grow stronger, you’ll gain more confidence and the ability to generate more intensity with your training. That is what will allow you to build more muscle.

I must caution you: when you test your limits with various exercises, push yourself up to the point of feeling pain. But…DO NOT work into the pain! The goal should never be to work through an injury… but rather to work around it.

Celiac disease will make life more challenging for sure. So, you’ll need to do everything in your power to avoid gluten. Even a trace amount of gluten can cause a horrible inflammatory reaction in the body for highly sensitive individuals. Not to mention, inflammation can have a negative impact on thyroid function.

You said that you’re hypothyroid, but your thyroid levels are ultimate? I suggest you explore this a little more with your doctor. Most doctors consider a TSH test to be the gold standard for determining whether or not you’re hypothyroid. It will help determine what is going on in your hypothalamus, but not what’s going on in your liver or the rest of your body.

Tests You Need

If your TSH is in the normal range, ask your doctor to draw a Reverse T3 and a Free T3 level. If the Reverse T3 is running high, or high-normal, and the Free T3 is running low, or low-normal…that could indicate you have functional hypothyroidism.

In this case, an endocrinologist would likely prescribe Cytomel (synthetic T-3) in addition to Synthroid, or levothyroxine (synthetic T-4). A holistic doctor may prescribe Armour thyroid. This is a natural thyroid supplement with nearly all the same thyroid hormones as humans.

I wish you all the best in overcoming your issues!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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