Disclaimer first: If you have issues with stretch marks, love handles, or any other ‘unattractive’ body issues, I have those. And I’m showing them to you. So unless you want to see what carrying 2 children combined with not being as active as I should (and of course scoliosis) does to my body, you should stop reading now. I have no claims of being a model, and I am constantly working on strengthening my body, but it is mine and it does what I ask of it. Consider yourself warned if you continue to read beyond this point!
Alright, let’s start of with some basics about scoliosis. It is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a sideways curvature of the spine. I was first “diagnosed” in middle school, 7th or 8th grade. They had each student go one at a time during gym class to a private room and bend over to touch their toes. We had no idea why, and joked about scoliosis being somehow related to your brain (skull). Little did I know I would be called to office later that day and told to take a letter home to my mom explaining that they found scoliosis and they recommended me follow up with my doctor. My memory is not great, but I think we went to the doctor but decided not to pursue any form of treatment at that time. Bracing is often recommended, but I didn’t go through that (which I am immensely grateful). Later in my adolescence, probably when I was 15 or 16 we went to a specialist and had xrays taken. I was told at that point that studies had shown that bracing was not effective for curves as severe as mine. They also said that I was definitely a candidate for surgery. At that point the surgery would have consisted of making an incision along the length of my spine and across my back (forming a letter L). They would insert a metal rod next to my spine and fuse the vertebrae together and connect them to the metal rod. Once the the bones had healed, approximately 6 months or so, they would go back in and remove the rod. I WANTED THIS SURGERY SO BADLY. I was a self-conscious teenager, and I was crooked. I was different. I hated that my ribs were uneven. I hated that my shoulders didn’t line up. But looking back I don’t think that it would have helped me. If I hadn’t been crooked I would have been ‘too fat.’ Or focused on my acne. I was a self-conscious teenager. My mom made the decision to wait for surgery.
Let’s jump ahead to today. I had two great pregnancies without complications. I can lift weights (when the urge arises, and I wish that were more often!). I can do yoga. I have a fantastic marriage, great job, and amazing family and friends. And I don’t have back pain. I’d like to interject here and say that pain is subjective. I do get kinks and knots in my back that are beyond irritating. If I sleep on a hotel pillow my neck and shoulders are sore for days. But considering what my body deals with every day I have no more pain than the average person. Although maybe my aches and pains would be excruciating to someone else and I have just learned to deal with it. I guess we’ll never know! I made the decision last year to see a back specialist because it had been 10-15 years since my last xray and I wanted to make sure that not pursuing treatment was still okay. This is the xray that I had taken:
The radiologist’s interpretation was this: There is no visible block vertebra. There is a severe S-shaped scoliotic curve of the thoracolumbar spine. The upper thoracic spine has a scoliosis convex left and the lower thoracic spine has a severe scoliosis convex right, while the upper lumbar spine has a moderate scoliosis convex left. Scoliosis in the thoracic spine is estimated at at least 50 degrees. The scoliosis of the lumbar spine is estimated at approximately 15 degrees.
What does that mean? I always tell someone to think of a straight line up and down. A normal spine is 0 degrees. Think of a right angle/90 degrees (capital L, for those a few years out of math class). My spine falls in between those, but closer to the 90 than 0. And the funny part is when I had xrays done in high school I know for a fact I was told the upper curve was in the 60 degrees range. According to that (and the vague wording on this xray) my spine has possibly improved! I don’t actually think it has, but it very much decreased my worries that it was still progressing at a substantial rate. When I went and had an appointment with the back specialist it was one of the best times I’ve ever had in a doctor’s office. Not going to lie, I cried when I left- I was that happy. It went something like this:
Dcotor- So you had two pregnancies. No back pain or complications?
Me- No. I do get short of breath very easily while exercising; could that be related to my scoliosis?
Doctor- It is possible. Because your rib-cage is twisted it may be putting a little bit of pressure on your lungs. Does this bother you all of the time or just with certain activities?
Me- Only with exertion, typically running. Not otherwise.
Doctor- I would say try to avoid anything that causes the shortness of breath. If it is not all of the time it is less concerning. And you’ve never worn a brace? Or had any treatment of any kind?
Doctor- If you’re looking to pursue surgery you would have absolutely no problem finding a doctor willing to perform it. I haven’t dealt with scoliosis enough to feel comfortable myself, but I can send you somewhere.
Me- I don’t really want to. I just want to make sure that I am monitoring it and following whatever you think is best.
Doctor- There are generally 3 reasons to pursue surgery for scoliosis. One would be pain. You are incredibly blessed to not have pain with this severity of scoliosis. The next would be functionality. Because of the risk of the rib-cage putting pressure on the heart and lungs as it twists surgery can be done. You are near the range where this could be a major issue, but it doesn’t seem to be a serious concern for you at this point. The last reason to get surgery would be for appearances. And I don’t say it last because it is the least important. It is a very real problem because scoliosis is by definition a deformity. People have a hard time feeling deformed because of it and it can greatly improve their quality of life to fix it if they are feeling this way.
Me- I felt like that a lot when I was younger, but I’ve come to terms with it.
Doctor- Well, seeing that you seem to be very healthy, and have no concerns along with having 2 young children there is no way I could see surgery being the best option for you. As with every surgery there is the possible complication of death, but aside from that scoliosis surgery carries the risk of paralysis. You don’t seem to be limited in any way and if it were me or someone that I loved I would advise them not to have surgery. Continue to stay active and keep the back muscles and abdominal muscles as strong as you can and you shouldn’t have any major issues. I’d recommend having another xray in a year or two to make sure that it measures the same, but otherwise I would say that you are very lucky and should continue to enjoy your life.
I was so nervous as I waited to speak with the doctor. I was sweating all over, palms clammy, heart racing, seriously near panicking. When I left I feel like I floated. I didn’t realize how scared I was and how much it weighed me down until the stress was lifted. I AM blessed with the life I was given, crooked or not!
Now for the awesome photos. I never asked anyone to take a picture of my back for me before. It was a little shocking for me to see it. (And motivating for me to get back to my weights, but that’s a different issue!) Without further ado…
This is it.
You can see how from one side the top of my back sticks out a lot farther than from the other. (And please ignore my gross hair, I just woke up. And don’t you love my boxers? :))
This is the ‘bend over’ test. You can see how my back doesn’t sit flat like most do.
Notice how my Left shoulder (your right) is higher than the other? I always have to tighten one bra strap tighter than the other, and sometimes have to pin or shorten tank top straps on the Right side.
Well, now that I’ve pretty much gotten in my underwear for you… 😉
This has become such a normal part of my life. And generally speaking people don’t even notice that I’m crooked. My hair dresser did have a hard time cutting my hair shoulder-length, which was entertaining to see her confusion for a minute! I am not hindered by this, other than not being able to run- and let’s be honest, I hate running! My scoliosis was a difficult thing to overcome, but I have come to terms with it. God made me exactly how he wanted me to be. All I can do it nourish and exercise the body that he has given me, and appreciate all that it can do for me!
I would love to answer any questions you might have for me, and I would love to hear something that you have overcome- physical or otherwise! Please share below!