Can Ballet Help Scoliosis? (Quick Facts)

Scoliosis is a condition that is marked by a curved spine. Many young dancers and non-dancers alike develop this condition. You may be wondering if you can dance with scoliosis. Or maybe if ballet can help scoliosis. 

Ballet cannot help scoliosis, in fact, it can increase the risk of developing it. However, you can successfully dance with the condition and there are many ways to decrease the risk as a dancer. 

Dancing with the condition can be challenging, but there are many success stories of professional dancers with scoliosis. There are also many ways to go about decreasing the risk and dancing safely with the condition.  

Can Ballet Help Scoliosis

What Is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis occurs when the spine is curved by more than 10 degrees, measured by assessing an x-ray. This is usually diagnosed in adolescents and has no known cause in approximately 80% of cases. 

There are different severities and shapes of scoliosis. The affected spine can be shaped like a C or an S. Some cases are so severe that they require surgery, while others can be treated with a brace. Sometimes scoliosis can go untreated if it is a mild case. 

Scoliosis can affect people in many ways, especially as it relates to physical activities. It can lead to a variety of issues including, but not limited to, respiratory issues in severe cases, chronic pain, decreased mobility, and may be linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, or decreased bone density. 

Can Ballet Help Scoliosis?

Ballet does not help scoliosis, however that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take ballet if you have scoliosis. Many professional dancers have made successful careers for themselves despite having scoliosis. 

Pre-existing scoliosis shouldn’t deter you from activities unless a doctor tells you otherwise. Ballet is no exception. On the other hand, ballet can increase the risk of developing scoliosis, so being cautious is never a bad thing.

Depending on the severity, some extra effort may be required in order to make it professionally as a ballet dancer with scoliosis. Focusing more effort on core strength and alignment of the hips and shoulders can be important steps. 

Can Ballet Increase the Risk of Scoliosis?

There is some evidence that ballet can increase the risk of scoliosis in young dancers. This is due to a variety of reasons related to both ballet and lifestyle habits that often accompany serious ballet training. 

One potential contributing factor is body weight. Many young dancers are taught or pressured into looking a certain way. Unfortunately, this has created an epidemic of underweight young dancers. This can lead to a higher risk of developing scoliosis. 

Another factor is the ballet training itself. Classical ballet training has been linked to an increased risk of scoliosis due to the types of movements being done on a regular basis around the same developmental age of scoliosis. This in combination with lifestyle issues can greatly increase the risk. 

How Scoliosis Can Impact Ballet Dancers

There are many successful professional ballet dancers with scoliosis. Wendy Whelan, a well-known dancer formerly with New York City Ballet, was diagnosed with scoliosis as a teenager and had to deal with the impacts throughout her training. Whelan had to wear various braces and casts throughout her years training. She only removed the brace for class. 

Whelan was very successful despite scoliosis. However, having scoliosis can increase the risk of developing other injuries, especially if it is untreated or unattended throughout a dancer’s career. This can become a risk factor if not looked after carefully. 

Scoliosis can impact how you dance and how you train. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a successful dancer with the condition. Extra core strengthening and keeping an eye on alignment can be helpful in dancing with scoliosis. 

Taking these types of steps and precautions can be essential to a successful ballet or other dance career with scoliosis. These steps can not only improve your dancing, but also prevent other injuries and keep you safe and dancing for as long as possible.  

Decreasing the Risk of Scoliosis in Young Dancers

Since most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, or of unknown cause, decreasing the risk can be difficult if not impossible. However, there are a couple of ways to hopefully decrease the risk in young dancers and to catch any cases early on.

One important thing is simply monitoring. Keeping a close eye on the dancers’ spines can result in earlier detection which usually have better outcomes. Ballet teachers being aware of the increased risk in young dancers could help improve the outcomes of scoliosis in these children and teenagers.

Another thing to keep in mind is core strength and general alignment. Technique habits that keep dancers’ cores strong and their alignment solid might help protect them from developing scoliosis. This will also help them be more successful in the dance world if they do develop the condition. 

Encouraging good eating habits also could go a long way in decreasing the scoliosis risk in young classically trained ballet dancers. Low BMI in growing bodies is one of the risk factors for scoliosis. Unfortunately, underweight young dancers are not uncommon. 

Many young dancers feel pressured to look a certain way. Some studios even go so far as to weigh their dancers on a regular basis, requiring them to maintain a thin appearance. This creates a toxic culture that leads to undereating. This is unhealthy in many ways, but is also a significant risk factor for scoliosis. 

Things to Remember

  • Scoliosis is characterized by the spine being curved by more than 10 degrees. It can vary in severity and treatments may include braces or surgery in the most severe cases. 
  • Dancing with scoliosis is entirely possible, however some extra work may be required depending on how severe the case is. Many dancers, such as Wendy Whelan, have made successful careers despite the condition. 
  • Classically trained ballet dancers are at an increased risk for scoliosis because of both the training itself as well as lifestyle factors that are common in young dancers. 
  • The risk of developing scoliosis as a young ballet dancer can be decreased by close monitoring, core strengthening, careful alignment, and good eating habits. These factors will also contribute to a better outcome should the dancer develop the condition. 
  • Keeping a close eye on your scoliosis during your career and being attentive to any other injuries that could occur as a result of the condition is key. Keeping your body in peak condition helps improve dancing as well as keeping you safe from injuries that can be common in conjunction with scoliosis. 

Scoliosis shouldn’t define a dancer’s career or stop children or adults from taking ballet. While it can increase the risk, the chances of developing the condition are still low, especially in the absence of the other risk factors such as a low BMI. 

Awareness is key. The more young dancers, care-takers, and dance instructors that are aware of the condition and know the risk factors and what to look out for, the better the outcomes. Catching it early and being careful to treat it properly can greatly improve a dancer’s quality of life and ballet career ahead. 

Keep an eye out for scoliosis and its risk factors. Stay healthy and don’t stop dancing out of fear. Ballet keeps you healthy and is good for the body and the mind.

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