How To Fix Scoliosis: Best Exercises To Straighten Spine

This blog post will go through the best Scoliosis exercises to straighten the spine!


What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis refers to the lateral curvature (side bending) that occurs in the thoracic and/or lumbar spine.

(Additionally – there is influence from the position of the rib cage and rotation of the spine.)

Characteristics of Scoliosis

how to fix scoliosis

  • Head tilt
  • Uneven shoulders
  • Uneven nipple height
  • Winged scapula
  • Rotated torso
  • Rib hump
  • Compressed ribs (+/- breathing issues)
  • Uneven arm gap
  • Uneven muscle bulk
  • Asymmetrical abdominals
  • Hip hike (Lateral pelvic tilt)
  • Leg length discrepancy

Types of Scoliosis

1. Structural Scoliosis is determined by your genetics and/or as a result of fused joints.

If the joints in your spine have fused together, then there is a smaller likelihood of significantly impacting the shape of your spine by performing the Scoliosis exercises.

2. Functional Scoliosis is determined by how your body habitually holds itself up as it attempts to maintain an up right posture against gravity.

It is able to be changed and/or improved.

(Read that last sentence again. This means  that there’s a good chance that these Scoliosis exercises will help you!)

“Which type of Scoliosis do I have?”

Forward bend test

forward bend test for Scoliosis

Instructions:

  • Position 1: Standing
    • Stand with your feet together.
    • Keep knees completely straight.
    • Take note of the severity of your Scoliosis.
  • Position 2: Bent forward
    • Bend forwards at the waist until your torso is horizontal.

(Get someone to take a photo of your torso so that you can compare the 2 different positions.)

Results:

Structural Scoliosis: Nil change to alignment.

Functional Scoliosis: Partial or full correction of alignment.

(Note: Another method is to side bend away from the side of the concave curve. If the curve  partially/completely reverses, then you have a Functional Scoliosis.)

What are the causes of Scoliosis?

The habitual positions that you adopt on a daily basis can often lead to Scoliosis.

The spine becomes so accustomed to using certain muscles in a certain position, that over time – you are now “hard wired” to hold this abnormal posture.

For example:

  • Playing sport with dominant arm only
  • Asymmetrical sitting posture
  • Always carrying bag on one side
  • Favoring one side at gym
  • Always sleeping on one side

Why is it an issue?

Scoliosis in the spine can bias the body to a particular position of asymmetry. (An asymmetry that may be the root cause of any pain!)

It limits the accessibility to the full range of movement of the spine in which posture and movement requires.

The body functions more efficiently and effortlessly with better alignment.

How can you move properly if you do not start from a good position?

(… Also aesthetics – Let’s be honest. Do we want to have a crooked spine?)

How to determine if you have Scoliosis (… and the severity of it!):

X-ray analysis:

Getting a X-ray scan is going to be the easiest and most accurate method.

If your doctor is happy to refer you and you’re not opposed to the radiation involved with the scan, then go for it!

(… just make sure they include the full body in a standing position!)

I recommend getting a EOS scan which I believe has 7-9 times LESS radiation than the standard X-ray.

How to analyze your Scoliosis on the X-ray:

(By comparing your X-rays over time, it serves as a great way to keep track of how your alignment is progressing with the Scoliosis exercises!)


scoliosis xray

1. Your alignment vs The ideal alignment [Red line]

  • Draw a vertical line that is the mid point between the 2 hip joints.

This shows how much the alignment of your spine deviates from the ideal mid line.

2. Pelvic tilt [Orange line]

  • Draw a line between the waist heights.

This shows if your pelvis is level or tilted.

3. Leg length discrepancy [Yellow line]

  • Draw a line between the top of the hip bones.

This shows if your legs are standing at the same vertical height.

4. Identify the Convexity and Concavity curves

This shows you the exact location of your Scoliosis.

5. Determine the Cobb’s angle

This determines the severity of the Scoliosis.

  • Locate the:
    • Apex of the spine and
    • the most tilted vertebra above and below the apex
  • Draw a line that matches the angle of these 2 vertebra.
  • Add perpendicular lines.
  • The point where these 2 lines intersect creates the Cobb’s angle.
  • Measure the angle.

RESULTS:

  • <10 degrees: Relatively “normal”/minor
  • 10-20 degrees: Moderate
  • 20-40 degrees: Moderate/severe
  • >45 degrees: Severe

Note:

** The following Scoliosis exercises are best suited for those who have a curve of <20 degrees.

** The exercises will still help for those who have a curve of >20 degrees, however, other factors such as spinal rotation and rib position will likely need to be addressed as well. (.. which is a bit more complex!)

** For angles >40 degrees, surgical interventions may need to be considered.


Exercises for Scoliosis

The content presented on this blog post is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. It exists for informational purposes only. For more information: Medical disclaimer.


Please note:

  • The following Scoliosis exercises serve as a starting point when addressing the curvature of your spine.
  • With the presence of 2 (… or more) curves, there is a primary and a compensatory curve(s).
  • (The compensatory curve is the attempt of the body to maintain an upright posture as a response to the primary curve.)
  • For best results for your specific presentation – perform these exercises in conjunction with Physical Therapy.

Read this BEFORE you start:

Address your pelvis!

“You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation”

As the position of the pelvis has a significant influence on the orientation of the entire spine, it is vital that this structure is in a neutral position when addressing your Scoliosis.


1. Lateral pelvic tilt:

This is the asymmetric positioning of the pelvis which creates uneven waist heights.

 To address this issue: How to fix a Lateral pelvic tilt.


2. Leg length discrepancy:

Asymmetries between the length of your legs can lead to a lateral pelvic tilt.

How to measure:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Measure the distance from the ASIS to the Medial Malleolus.
  • Do both sides.
  • Results: If these lengths are significantly different between the legs, then you may have a leg length discrepancy.

Alternatively – you can get a CT scan to measure it.

To address this issueIf you have a true leg length discrepancy, consider getting inserts in your shoe to address the height difference.


3. Rotated pelvis

rotated pelvis

This is where the pelvis is twisted and facing more towards one side.

 To address this issue: How to fix a Rotated pelvis.


… Now that the pelvis is level, let’s get on with the Scoliosis exercises to straighten the spine!

Scoliosis Exercises:

Table of contents:

  1. Releases
  2. Stretches
  3. Strengthening
  4. Corrections
  5. Progressions
  6. Asymmetrical position
  7. Addressing other areas
  8. Common questions
  9. Conclusion

1. Releases

It is important to know WHERE your concave curve is located.

For simplicity sake – release the muscles which fall within the shaded area of the concavity.

These muscles will tend to be tight and/or over active.


Possible muscles to target

For the correct placement of the massage ball, use Google Images to locate the muscle you are trying to target.

Thoracic region:

Lumbar region:

  • Erector Spinae
  • Quadratus Lumborum
  • Psoas
  • Obliques
  • Thoracolumbar fascia

a) Ball releases

releases for scoliosis

Instructions:

  • Place the target muscle on the side of your concavity on top of a ball.
  • Apply your body weight on top of the ball.
  • Make sure to cover the whole concavity.
  • Continue for 1-2 minutes.
  • Note: Do NOT roll directly onto your rib cage! Instead, do this…

b) Intercostals

intercostal releases

Instructions:

  • Place a finger in the gap between the ribs on the side of the concavity.
  • Apply a firm pressure as you trace around the ribs.
  • Continue for 1 minute per rib level.

2. Scoliosis Stretches

Stretching addresses the tight muscles that are holding the spine into a particular pattern of Scoliosis.

The apex is where the spine bends the most.

It is very important to know the exact location of the apex of the curvature of your spine.

This will dictate how and where you will perform these stretches.

Aim to FEEL the stretch in the region of the concavity at the level of the apex.

Hold each stretch for at least 10 minutes (… go longer if you can).


For Thoracic Scoliosis:

a) Side stretch on floor

(Area targeted: Side of rib cage, Side of thoracic spine)

scoliosis exercises

Instructions:

  • Lie down with the side of concavity towards the ground.
  • Prop your upper body onto your forearm. (see above)
  • Whilst keeping your waist pinned down to the ground, push your torso up right.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of the rib cage and thoracic spine.
  • Take a deep breath into the area where you feel the stretch.
    • (Push your ribs and belly out as much as you can!)

Note: The angle of your torso whilst performing this stretch should be dictated by the area of the thoracic region you are targeting.

  • Upper thoracic region: The torso will be less up right
  • Lower thoracic region: The torso will be more up right

b) Side stretch with flexion

(Area targeted: Side of spine)

stretch for thoracic scoliosis

Instructions:

  • Remain seated.
  • Curve your upper back region forwards.
    • Aim to curve your spine at the level of the apex.
  • Side bend the spine away from the side of concavity.
    • Try to isolate this movement to the apex region.
  • Pull your head towards the armpit that is on the opposite side of the concavity.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your spine.
  • Take a deep breath into the area where you feel the stretch.

For Lumbar Scoliosis:

Side tilt 

stretch for lumbar scoliosis

Instructions:

  • Start with your feet wide apart with your left foot turned out to the side.
  • With arms outstretched, start to bend all the way to your left side.
  • Aim to reach your upper arm as far to the left as possible.
  • Keep your body in line with your left leg.
    • Do not rotate your body.
  • Keep your legs fairly straight.

For more stretches like this: Quadratus Lumborum Stretches.


Thoracic or Lumbar Scoliosis:

Stretches using equipment:

You can use a variety of equipment to help you stretch. These include:

  • Foam roller
  • Gym ball
  • Yoga wheel
  • Rolled up towel

Which one to use? Pick the equipment with the appropriate width that you can comfortably feel the stretch.

Instructions:

  • Lie on top of the equipment of your choice with the side of convexity on the lower side.
    • The foam roller should be on the same level of the apex.
  • Reach over head with the upper arm.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the upper side (concavity).
  • Take deep breaths in this position.
    • The aim of breathing is to increase the stretch.

3. Strengthening exercises for Scoliosis

To perform the following Scoliosis exercises, you will need to learn how to “bow the spine”.

“Bowing” is the movement of a specific part of the spine (… as opposed to moving the whole spine) which allows for certain areas to be stretched or strengthened.

The aim is to move the spine so that the apex of your curve is shifted towards the opposite direction.

(Don’t worry if you can’t get it straight away…It takes a bit of practice!)


For Thoracic Scoliosis:

Translations

strengthening exercise for scoliosis

Instructions:

  • Sit on the floor in the position as shown above.
  • Place the hand on the same side of the thoracic concavity onto the floor.
    • Keep your arm completely locked straight.
  • Sink your weight into your hand.
    • Keep the shoulder relaxed. It should naturally shrug up as you do this.
  • Bow the apex of your curve towards the side of concavity.
  • Aim to feel a:
    • stretch into the concavity
    • muscle contraction on the side of convexity
  • Hold 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Do you have at tight thoracic spine?
Check out this post: Exercise for the thoracic spine.


For Lumbar Scoliosis:

Leg drop/Arm reach

strengthening scoliosis exercises

  • Stand on the edge of a step with the leg on the opposite side of the lumbar concavity.
  • Keep this leg slightly bent and stationary throughout the exercise.
  • Perform these movements together:
    • Reach down towards the floor with your other foot
    • Reach your hand up/over your head.
  • Bow the apex of your curve towards the side of concavity.
  • Aim to feel a:
    • stretch into the concavity
    • muscle contraction on the side of convexity
  • Hold for 3 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.

4. Corrections

After investing some time with the above Scoliosis exercises, you should notice that your spine is not as restricted as it was before.

A malleable spine will enable you to perform the following corrective exercises more effectively.


Key points:

  • Perform these exercises whilst using a mirror as to provide visual feedback of your posture.
  • Move as far as the body will allow you to without causing significant distortions to the rest of your alignment.
  • Remember – our immediate goal here is to reduce the degree of curvature (… even if it is a small amount) and not to eliminate it completely.
    • You are aiming for your best possible correction for your current level of ability.
  • If you are having difficulty with the corrections, focus more time and effort on the Releases/Stretches/Strengthening exercises first.

Instructions:

  • Remain seated. Keep equal weight distribution between your buttocks.
  • Remain elongated throughout the spine.
    • Imagine your head is being lengthened towards the sky.
  • Locate the apex of the convex curve.
  • Bow the apex back into place as far as you can achieve without causing major distortions to the rest of your spinal alignment.
  • Reset your position (whilst holding correction):
    • Perform a gentle circle motion of your head and shoulder.
    • Lift your buttock off the chair one side at a time.
  • Take slow and deep breaths in this corrected position for 5 minutes.
  • Use a mirror to help you guide your correction.
    • Pay attention to the spinal curve, shoulder height, level of the head etc.
    • SEE the correction. But more importantly – FEEL the correction.

Addressing multiple curves:

  • Target your correction to a single area first.
  • Whilst maintaining this correction, proceed to address the other curve.
  • Reset your head, shoulder and pelvis position.
  • As you become more confident with the exercise, you can perform the corrections for the different areas at the same time.

5. Core Exercises for Scoliosis

Aim: To maintain your best possible correction whilst performing the following Scoliosis exercises.

Initially – it is very likely that you will need you rely on visual feedback (ie. using a mirror/video) to help you maintain the proper correction.

As your postural awareness improves with practice, aim to perform your correction by feel.


1. Corrections with limb movements

a) Single arm lift

Whilst sitting or standing, lift your arm above your head. Alternate sides.

b) Single leg lift

single leg balance

Whilst standing, lift your knee up to hip level. Alternate sides.

c) Sit to stand

sit to stand squat

From a sitting position, stand up right. Repeat.

d) Hinge

Instructions:

  • Whilst in the standing position, gently engage your core muscles.
  • Bend forwards at the HIPS. Keep knees slightly bent.
  • As you bend forwards, sit your hips backwards as you lean you forwards.
  • Make sure that you maintain the torso alignment throughout movement.
  • Do NOT bend your lower back.
  • Hinge as far as you can until you can feel your hamstring start to stretch.
  • Resume starting position.

e) Bird/Dog

core exercises for scoliosis

Instructions:

  • Assume the point kneel position.
  • Perform your best possible correction to straighten your spine.
  • Engage your core by drawing your stomach in wards.
  • Proceed to lift up your opposite arm and leg without loosing your correction.
  • Alternate sides.
  • Repeat 10 times.

2. Challenge with Spinal movement

a) Torso rotation

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting, rotate your torso as far as you can to one side.
  • Repeat on the other.
  • Make sure that your pelvis does not move.

b) Segmentation

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, wrap your arms around an exercise ball as much as you can. (see above)
    • Try to get your fingers tips to touch.
  • Perform your correction.
  • Starting from the neck: Proceed to round your spine down one vertebra at a time.
  • The goal here is to emphasize the rounding over the areas where your Scoliosis is located.
  • From here, reverse your movements back to the beginning.
  • Repeat 20 times.

c) Walking

d) Any movement you like

All this means is that you should perform your correction whilst doing any activity that is important to you!

6. Asymmetrical positions

There is absolutely no point in performing all of these exercises if you continue to place your body in the position which has lead to your Scoliosis in the first place!


a) How should you sleep with Scoliosis?

Habitual side sleeping on the same side every night may encourage your Scoliosis.

Solution: If you must sleep on your side, make sure to support your body with pillows as to maintain a straight spine. (see below)

How should you sleep with Scoliosis

(See post: Best sleeping posture)

Generally speaking – you will want to sleep on your side with the concavity (Primary curve) on the low side.

b) Sitting tilted to one side

Solution: Ensure that you have equal weight distribution between your buttocks. Do not slouch to one side.

c) Carrying bag on one shoulder

Solution: Use a bag that straps over both shoulders.

d) Leaning on one side

Solution: Ensure that you have equal weight distribution between your feet. Do not hitch your hips!

7. Addressing other areas

Addressing other areas of postural dysfunctions may help the Scoliosis exercises be even more effective.


1. Thoracic Kyphosis

thoracic kyphosis

 Check out this post: Exercises for Hunched back posture.

2. Flat back posture

flat back posture

Check out this post: How to fix Flat back posture.

3. Hyperlordosis

lumbar hyperlordosis

 Check out this post: How to fix Lumbar Hyperlordosis.

8. Any questions?

1. How long will it take to fix Scoliosis without surgery?

If you’ve been through the comments in my other blog posts regarding fixing your posture, you will already know that I find this question VERY HARD to answer. (especially if I’ve never seen you in person)

The short answer – it depends!

Every one is different.

Instead – Focus on: Doing the exercises. Being consistent.  And celebrate the small wins!… You’ll get there!

2. Will these Scoliosis exercises give me a PERFECT straight spine?

No – No spine is perfectly straight…

However- the exercises will certainly help you attain and maintain a better spinal alignment as compared to what you have now.

3. What about a Scoliosis brace?

Wearing an external brace may help prevent or slow down the progression of Scoliosis.

Generally speaking – they are most effective during times of growth (Teenager years) but can still be worn to help fix Scoliosis in adults.

4. Does everyone have it?

It is important to note that almost EVERYONE has some degree of Scoliosis (Ranging from mild, moderate to severe).

Its presence of Scoliosis is not always problematic in the short term.

5. Do I need Scoliosis Surgery?

If you have:

  • Severe Scoliosis (Cobb’s angle >40 degrees).
  • Have persisted with the exercises for >12 months with nil improvement at all.
  • Participated in a strengthening program focused on improving function and still present with significant symptoms directly related to Scoliosis

… then it might be an idea to talk with a Specialist to see what options are available to you.


9. Conclusion

  • Scoliosis involves the abnormal sideways curves of the spine and presents differently from person to person.
  • The Scoliosis exercises are designed to be most effective for curves that are <20 degrees.
  • The Releases, Stretches and Strengthening sections are designed to give the opportunity for change to occur in the alignment of the spine.
  • The Corrections are designed to engage the muscles responsible for bringing the spine into a better alignment.
  • The Progressions will help challenge your ability to maintain the correction.
  • For best results – use these Scoliosis exercises in conjunction with seeing a Physical therapist.

What to do next

1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)

2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!

3. Start doing the exercises!

161 thoughts on “How To Fix Scoliosis: Best Exercises To Straighten Spine”

  1. Hey Mark,

    I have very mild scoliosis in the thoracic spine (Cobb Angle only 7 degrees). On the x-ray you can see my thoracic spine (D4-D12) bends to the right. Should I be doing the side push on my left side then? It’s weird because my left side already feels like the stronger side. And when doing the side stretch with flexion: Where should I bend to ? Should I bend to my right or left armpit?

    Kind Regards,
    Björn

    Reply
    • Hey Bjorn,

      You will always want to side flex AWAY from the side of concavity.

      If you are bending towards the right (concavity right), then you will want to stretch towards the left.

      Mark

      Reply
      • Hey Mark,

        I am still in doubt. So I have a thoracic curve to the right (dextro scoliosis in D4-D10), what do I do in side stretch and what do I do in side stretch with flexion?

        When doing the side stretch, I would think to lean on my left side.
        When doing the side stretch with flexion, I would think to lean to my right side?

        What is correct, what is wrong?

        Reply
  2. Hello Mark,

    X-ray of the thoracic and lumbar spine showed:
    thoracic:
    decrease in the height of the intervertebral spaces
    osteophytes
    subchondral sclerosis
    deformation of the transverse costal joints
    conclusion: signs of osteochondrosis, arthrosis of the transverse costal joints
    lumbar:
    signs of impaired statics and degenerative-dystrophic changes in the lumbosacral spine (osteochondrosis, deforming spondyloarthrosis)
    scoliosis – left C-curve (9 degrees)
    Spina bifida posterior S1

    I got all of this due to excessive sport exercises in a short period of time (thanks to boredom in quarantine 2020). Can I still do your exercises? And also can I do cardio and other workouts (booty, abs)? Or will I make more harm? And can all of this be cured? (I am only 25 and I have never had such problems (except scoliosis that I got in my teens))

    Reply
    • Hi Liza,

      Based purely on the information you provided, it is likely that you will be fine performing the exercises mentioned on the blog post.

      However, I would also encourage you to seek medical clearance from your doctor if you are not sure.

      The findings on the Xray are likely to be structural. This means there may be a certain limit as to how much you can change. Keep in mind – findings on scans DO NOT dictate your symptoms.

      Mark

      Reply
      • Can other exercises be done along with yours? for example, asymmetrical leg exercises with weights or 5 min jumping rope.
        I read that some exercises are prohibited for people with scoliosis (some asanas in yoga, jumping, running, symmetrical exercises).

        Reply
  3. I have a 25 degree thoracolumbar C curve from T12 to L3 convex to the left. Do I do the thoracic or lumbar or both exercises for stretching and strengthening?

    Thank you

    Reply
  4. mark,

    so just to clarify your last comment, with an S curve you’re saying to stretch the convex sides and strengthen the concave sides?

    thanks

    Reply
    • Hey Josh,

      For a typical “S” shape curve (not a reverse ‘S’ shape curve), you will want to stretch the concavity and strengthen the convexity.

      Mark

      Reply
  5. Hey Mark,

    I have an S curved spine. My x ray says that i have a “right curvature of the thoracic spine from the superior T6 vertebral body to T11 vertebral body that measures 15 degrees.” Also a “Left curvature of the lumbar spine from superior T12 to inferior L4 measures 17 degrees”.

    My back pain seems to be only on my left side, by my ribs. But the pain seems to be right in the middle where the thoracic and lumbar spine meet. Should i be strengthening my left lumbar spine and stretching my left thoracic side? Again the pain seems to be right in the middle so it’s a little confusing as where to stretch and where to strengthen.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hey Josh,

      If your symptoms are related to your S curve, Stretching the right thoracic and left lumbar spine can help. And strengthening the Left thoracic and right lumbar spine.

      Mark

      Reply
  6. Hey Mark,

    I found out that I have a 13.9 mm shift to the left, mid back tilt of 6.2 degrees, because my left is shorter than right causing my pelvis to shift, thus spine out of alignment. I have a shoe lift in left shoe but I still continue to have pain in left thoracic spine rib area of mid back(ribs slip in and out).
    Any ideas on how to get my spine straightened and fix this back pain? I have occasional hip pain also but mostly it’s the rib area in back.
    Thank you!!

    Reply
  7. HI Mark,

    I’m confused about something. You are suggesting to stretch the concave side of the curve. But wouldn’t strengthening / tightening the concave side bring the curve closer to the correct position? Seems counterintuitive. Could you explain that a bit? Forgive my ignorance!

    Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Hello Mark, a few questions regarding the side stretch with flexion for the spine.
    1, how many sets
    2, the length of time
    3, how often (daily every other day) a few times a day, once or twice a day.

    Also do you have any videos on how to perform these although you do explain to how to very well not like some others .
    Thanks mate. You have been very helpful to me.

    Reply
    • Hello Scott,

      The general rule for any stretch is to get at least 30 seconds. For scoliosis, I would actually recommend going closer to 2 minutes and beyond if you are significantly tight.

      You can perform these every day, 3/day.

      I don’t have any videos at present. (It will be something that I need to do though!)

      All the best.

      Mark

      Reply
  9. I have 14 yr old son with shorter left leg (approx. 8cm), with shoe insoles of .5cm.

    concavity is in the lumbar region. what exercises do you recommend?

    Reply
    • Hi Mel,

      Is he able to build up a heel lift to minimize the leg length difference? An 8cm difference will definitely impact the way his body will move.

      Focus on exercises that maintain as much mobility and strength in the spine (as shown on blog post).

      With a leg length discrepancy and lumbar lateral curvature, I would encourage you to have a look at this post as well : Lateral pelvic tilt exercises

      Mark

      Reply
    • Hi Mel,
      I have a winged scapula, lateral pelvic tilt along with slight scoliosis. Should I address the two first issues first or can I do all exercises in conjunction? Essentially, does the first two issues need to be fixed for the scoliosis exercises to work, or can I work on all problems at the same time? Also how often can the exercises be done?
      Leandros

      Reply
  10. Hello. I currently can not get an x ray done but i do have a left rib hump and winged scapula. How should i got about when finding my apex/curve region. Since its a left hump does that mean my spine is curving to the right? I’m so upset because i can’t get an x ray nor can i find my curve region

    Reply
    • Im 15 and I think its in the lumbar region due to it being a left hump but im just not sure.
      I do know i have a pelvic tilt though.
      Just cant figure out where the curve is so i know what to target

      Reply

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