The short answer to question number one Do dance/gymnastics cause scoliosis? is NO. What a relief right!? There is no known activity that directly causes scoliosis. There is however a higher prevalence of dancers and gymnasts that have scoliosis than in other sports, so what gives? The answer is that scoliosis and hyper-mobility tend to correlate. A study from 2011 that investigated this correlation found that 51% of the 70 adolescents with scoliosis displayed hyper-mobility while only 19% of the 58 control adolescent were hyper-mobile.
And more flexible sports tend to attract flexible people!
On to question two: Should I pull my child out of dance/gymnastics now that she/he is diagnosed? This answer is not as straight forward. While dance and gymnastics do not cause scoliosis, extreme range of motion can be a factor in progression. It is generally recommended that individuals with scoliosis aim to keep their spine in the most neutral position while performing sports or exercise to decrease the risk of worsening the condition.
On the other hand there are studies that show that being physically active can reduce the risk of progression. A study that won at SOSORT this past year presented by Alessandra Negrini, found that children who were active in sports had less progression than children not involved in sports. In addition, the more times a week children participated in sports the greater the improvement! The study did not however, look at improvement across different sports. Studies specific to dance and gymnasts are needed to explore if the core strengthening component of these activities outweighs the downside of extreme range of motion.
So there are definitely pros and cons to consider strictly looking at the mechanical aspects of dance and gymnastics. I think the most important question is: how important is the activity to your child? If it's just one of many sport she/he loves, then maybe drop it. If it is the passion of your child's life, it is important to weigh that into the decision.
Leaning back in a cambre, my dancer goal has always been more is better. If you look at the picture on the left, that mental goal leads to me hinge through my low lumbar spine pretty aggressively. Now using knowledge of my spine and Schroth concepts, I aim for a more gentle curve like the photo on the right. I also choose to do this position minimally or if I am practicing for a performance I don't do the full version of this movement. Less intensity and repetition equal less stress. I may not be the most limber or impressive ballerina out there, but it's worth it to be wise about what my body needs.
In my aerial class I adapted a lot of things. If I do it again I will adapt even more.
There are some things I just shouldn't do because of my scoliosis, but there also many things I can in spite of it!
So the bottom line is dance and gymnastics are not to blame for scoliosis, but we have to be smart with them!
Check out Why Practice Did Not Make My Pirouettes Perfect? to learn about how Schroth has helped my turns!
Rachel Clay, Scoliosis Specialist
I help people with scoliosis and posture issues return to normal life without pain, feel better about their body image, prevent worsening of their curves, and avoid surgery using specialized exercise!