I'm a personal trainer and have worked with a fair amount of clients with scoliosis. From those diagnosing themselves with it to those who've had their spine fused from T1 to L4, for 30 years.
My general rule with them is I'm simply more careful with any loading of their spine to start. We can't say we won't load their spine at all though. After all, walking, holding a bag, that loads the spine.
Here are a few examples of what we might do-
- Rather than barbell squat, we'll Goblet squat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXCBZe7j284 (You can see that woman leaning to her right. She had some scoliosis.)
- Rather than deadlift, we'll do Pull-throughs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXlD1qCJOZo
- With most clients, I'll shoot for something like adding 5lbs a week to their lifts. With one of these people, I might make it 5lbs every other week for anything involving the back.
I don't have any hard rules, and don't think you can have them, because each person is going to be too different to paint a brush. For instance, I promise you no research study was going to help me handle the client with the majority of her spine fused, from a surgery that happened 30 years ago.
Some other general rules I have though are,
- If the person was diagnosed as a kid, I'm more careful with them than
- If the person says they didn't know they had it til they were e.g. 30 years old, then that might simply be functional scoliosis (not an actual bony abnormality), and in that case I'm more concerned with seeing if we can "straighten them out"
Said another way, if a person was diagnosed young, then you're going to have to accept some asymmetrical movement. If they were diagnosed late, then you might be able to keep them straight while working out. If you can keep them straight, you don't have to be as concerned with loading the spine.
(In my experience, another easy way to differentiate these people is those who have congenital scoliosis often stand out. It's obvious by quickly glancing at them. If you need a protractor to figure it out, it's not worth worrying about much.)
Lastly, there is no reason to get married to certain exercises. Back squatting, deadlifting, these aren't necessary lifts to be in good shape. There are plenty of alternatives.
In many cases I had to avoid these because the person wasn't comfortable with loading their back in those fashions. It's not like I'm going to try and convince them to deadlift or squat then. If they're good with walking lunges or leg pressing, so am I.