View Full Version : to swim or not to swim

07-31-2011, 11:26 PM
Hi guys;

I have a question about what's the best exercise for our kids.

Is swimming really the best one or is it just an old wife's tale?

I keep pushing my 12yo daughter to swim, but she hates it - it's 3-4 times a week for 2 hours (swim team)

What are her alternatives? For some reason, both my husband and me always thought that swimming is the best for her because of the scoliosis. But what is we are wrong and making her miserable for nothing?

Thanks for all the help!

08-01-2011, 05:59 AM
The best thing to do is ask your surgeon if there is any evidence that swimming prevents progression. Also maybe Dr. McIntire here would comment. He has a very good chance of knowing about this as PT for scoliosis was his dissertation topic.

As far as I know, there is no evidence for this whatsoever. Where did you get this idea?

We had a poster a while back (pearlgirl) who seemed to think her curve improved if she swam regularly but she also said it would increase again if she stopped swimming. She thought that was happening based on repeated height measurements as I recall.

Swimming might help hold a curve during growth but I doubt it has been studied. For me, I wouldn't make my kid do something she didn't enjoy when there isn't a shred of evidence it will help.

Good luck.

08-01-2011, 08:59 AM
Well, it's not about halting the progression - it's about what sport will she benefit from for her future

My way of thinking:

- that's the only sport that does not put any strain on the spine, since it's in the water and it's not vertical.
- it's the sport that builds back muscles - the ones that will be needed throughout her life to support her bad back

What other sports can she do to build her back muscles and not put too much strain on the spine in the process?

08-01-2011, 09:18 AM
I think only Dr. McIntire can answer those questions.

Good luck.

(Edited comment about stapling.)

08-01-2011, 09:35 AM
yes, many doctors, including surgeons, recommend swimming as a gentler exercise.....i do not know about swim team, but i do know individual swimming is often recommended for both kids and adults....
also, exercise in water presents less resistance and is easier for anyone with pain...

have you asked her doctor if your daughter might benefit from yoga?


08-01-2011, 09:35 AM
Pardon my ignorance, but I have not been to this forum for a while, so I don't know who Dr. McIntire is and how to ask him questions

08-01-2011, 09:39 AM
Pardon my ignorance, but I have not been to this forum for a while, so I don't know who Dr. McIntire is and how to ask him questions

He is the only researcher in this field who reads and posts on this forum although he hasn't posted in a while.

In the meantime, maybe your surgeon can advise you on PT that will strengthen the back muscles without straining the spine although based on Jess' response, he is likely to agree that swimming is good.

08-01-2011, 09:45 AM
For whatever it's worth, our surgeon has always told us that our daughter can do whatever sport she wants to do. That there is no real evidence that any particular thing helps or hurts. Fitness is what's important for any kid. For a kid that's braced, a sport that helps keep the core strong may be of benefit just because that's what tends to weaken due to bracing. But it's temporary, just poor muscle tone that will repair with exercise at any time. We never had that problem, maybe because she is a rider and uses her core a lot. I think it's more important your daughter is happy and doing a sport she likes for general fitness. We did make our daughter join the swim team this summer, but not because of scoliosis--just because she was not a very strong swimmer and it's the cheapest swim lessons going--and it was only 6 weeks.

08-01-2011, 09:57 AM
But it's temporary, just poor muscle tone that will repair with exercise at any time. .

Unfortunately, I disagree with this stmt: all PTs that I know personally told me that muscles are on a "use it or lose it" base

Once you lose it - especially in the brace, it's really hard to build them back and I am trying to prevent exactly that

08-01-2011, 10:10 AM
Well, as I said, we never had the problem and she's always just done what she wanted, and always wore her hard brace for sports when she was in it full time--lots of sports work the core muscles. Good luck!

08-01-2011, 10:26 AM
Just a thought, but maybe your daughter would enjoy swimming more if she could do it with friends sometimes. Then it wouldn't seem like she's exercising because she has to, but more like a fun activity. She might start to enjoy it more that way.

I went to PT (including the pool) before my surgery to strengthen my back and try to prevent surgery. And then my nurses told me that if I wasn't so athletic and just had more fat on my back, surgery wouldn't have been quite as painful. So I wonder if strengthening my back was not such a good idea after all.

But I've found that swimming is really relaxing on my back, both before and after surgery. In the future, I'm sure having a strong back will really help her. Maybe in junior high she could just try volleyball. Serving and spiking are great for strengthening your back, but there is jumping involved. It might bother her back, and it might not. She would know after trying it. Plus, it's a ton of fun, but that's just my opinion. : )

08-01-2011, 03:19 PM
I swam on a team as a child, before my scoliosis was diagnosed and while I loved swimming, I experienced endless frustrations in being on the team that I now understand were because of my deformity. The coaches always wanted us to rotate sides for breathing in freestyle, but it was very hard for me. I could only turn one way - now I know it was because of the way my rib rotation goes. I had a great deal of difficulty with breast stroke - and now I understand that my spine is hypokyphotic and the breathing strained my back at a critical spot. Butterfly presented similar problems - I couldn't pull evenly on both sides and repeatedly ended up on the lane marker. My self esteem was shaken routinely. Swimming on the team and swimming for personal wellness are really different, especially with a spinal deformity, so at the very least, I would hope that if she stays on the team, your daughter's coach would be made aware of her potential limitations.

08-01-2011, 03:23 PM
Thanks for the insight - yes, her coach is aware of her limitations

I agree that swimming for the team might be too much, but unfortunately, I can't find any other options :(

She is over qualified for any kind of swimming classes at YMCA or such and is not discipline enough to work hard on her own during lap time at any pool

08-01-2011, 09:29 PM
My son swam before his surgery, while he wore a brace for 3.5 years or so. His core was still very weakened by the brace, despite the swimming. I always encouraged his swimming for the same reasons you do now and luckily he actually likes to swim. He's on his high school swim team and another year-round swim team but he does have some limitations: he can't really do butterfly and for some reason his flutterkick is not strong. Because of his kicking issues, he is usually the slowest kid in his groups on his teams but he actually doesn't really mind this. He just really enjoys the swimming.

With that said, I don't think your daughter will reap a long-term benefit from her swimming if she doesn't enjoy it. That may change if she continues though, you never know. Prior to my son's surgery, his doctor always wanted to make sure that Alexander was exercising and it didn't seem to matter what sport/exercise he did. If there's something else your daughter would rather do, I'd let her and see how it feels (probably after making sure her doctor thinks it won't harm her).

My son also did martial arts - aikido and mixed martial arts program and those are also fairly low impact and great for core building.

Good luck with this. I know it's hard to have what seems like a power struggle over something you know will probably be beneficial.


08-01-2011, 09:32 PM
Thanks, Laurie, for your input. The problem is she does not like any sports, so we are trying to force her to do something, which is a sport and also at least not bad for her spine

08-01-2011, 10:34 PM
If she's doing Schroth, why do you think she needs additional exercise to strengthen her back? I would personally not force my child to participate in a sport that she doesn't love, assuming that she's getting some sort of exercise.


08-02-2011, 07:18 AM
My daughters are not very sporty either. This seems related to their connective tissue issues. They are not built for many sports. Their limberness allowed them to master certain aspects of riding fairly quickly but they didn't really like it enough to stick with it. Indeed some conditions like Marfans require a restriction of certain physical exercises for various reasons. Some percentage of scoliosis patients have scoliosis associated with Marfans or some other connective tissue issue, named or unnamed. It is not only unwise to force these kids to do sports but potentially dangerous.

Just wanted to throw that out there.

08-02-2011, 08:01 AM
The coaches always wanted us to rotate sides for breathing in freestyle, but it was very hard for me. I could only turn one way - now I know it was because of the way my rib rotation goes.

That was my case too. I've been swimming (wrongly) all my life, breathing in favour of my rotation. I only found out after surgery, last year. Now I swim with snorkle glasses and tube, so that I don't have to turn my neck.

Swimming might be good for building up back and abs muscles but only for that. As far as I've found in the litterature, there's no evidence that it prevents scoliosis progression and it might even be worse if not done correctly for each case (e.g. breathing to the opposite side of the ribs rotation)

I'd suggest that she does any kind of sport that she enjoys and that doesn't imply high impact (jumping and stuff). I think it's better that she gets into the habit of exercising and stretching daily.

08-02-2011, 11:37 PM
thought I'd comment since my daughter is on swim team too. happily, she enjoys it. after reading this, and after watching her last weak, she does seem to be a bit behind her peers on side to side breathing on freestyle. I'll look at that more closely.

our scoli specialist, Dr Newton, encourages swim team and being physically active in general. he says she can be out of brace up to 6 hours a day as long as she is active physically during that time. Aside from swim team the only other organized sport she does is dance class one day a week. this summer she's been boogie boarding and playing in the ocean quite a bit. we also do core exercises as a family: sit ups, the plank etc, hey, can't hurt this middle aged mom...

that said, one more comment. when my daughter was first diagnosed a friend who is a sports medicine physician had an initial comment: get her to the Best Specialist you can find and avoid one hand dominant sports like tennis and golf, you want to strengthen her back muscles symmetrically.

best wishes to you and your daughter!

08-06-2011, 11:42 AM
Eur Spine J. 2011 Jul 22. [Epub ahead of print]
Beneficial effects of aerobic training in adolescent patients with moderate idiopathic scoliosis.
Bas P, Romagnoli M, Gomez-Cabrera MC, Bas JL, Aura JV, Franco N, Bas T.

Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology, Hospital University La Fe, Valencia, Spain, palobasher@gmail.com.

The major aim of this study was to determine whether after 6 weeks of aerobic training adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) girls who suffer from mild scoliotic curvatures (n = 6) behaved in a similar way than healthy controls (n = 6) in different biochemical, anthropometric, and cardio respiratory parameters.

The maximal power output and the power output achieved at the anaerobic threshold (AT), during the maximal exercise test, were significantly increased in both experimental groups, when compared with resting conditions. The training program caused significant changes in body composition (i.e., a decrease in body fat %) only in the scoliotic group. Regarding the cardio respiratory measurements, VO(2max) was increased by 17% in AIS group and 10% in the healthy group.

Our results suggest that physical activity should be encouraged in scoliotic girls with mild curvatures.