Scoliosis: Patient, Physiotherapist & Physiotherapy
Negin Kamyab obtained her Master’s of Physical Therapy from Queen’s university in 2015. She received her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology with a Bachelor’s of Science from York University. Negin has worked in both a private clinical and acute inpatient setting ranging from orthopaedic MSK, cardiology, nephrology, inpatient rehab, ICU and stroke/neurology unit.
This is her story about living with scoliosis.
We all know the pre-teen years can be super awkward. Braces, bushy eye-brows, body hair and trying not to be awkward in front of your crush. These times were and still are complicated with all the hormonal changes happening, and trying to fit into a mold society has created. Lucky for me (and I mean that in the most sarcastic way possible) this was also around the time that I was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis. Idiopathic scoliosis is just another fancy term for an abnormal curvature of the spine, where the cause is unknown.
80% of all idiopathic scoliosis are diagnosed between the ages of 10-18 years, girls being affected at a rate of 8 times more than boys.
Again, there is no definite cause of why the spine forms with these side-to-side curves. There may be a genetic component as something that is passed down, but the research remains inconclusive.
What are the early signs of scoliosis?
For me, it started off as back pain. Constant back pain when I would be sitting or walking for long periods of time. I remember being in the 6th grade (if my memory serves me right) and not being able to tolerate the long hours of sitting in school. This is usually how scoliosis is first detected. There are also physical manifestations that can be noticed, such as uneven shoulder height, uneven waistline, one shoulder blade protruding more than the other or a visible S or C shape of the spine. I was quickly referred to a paediatric spine specialist and that’s when my journey with scoliosis began. Since there is no “cure” for scoliosis, management and stopping its progression is key in the early stages. You want to start managing the issue before the child stops growing. The earlier management begins, the better chance there is to stop its progression.
With severe scoliosis the size of the chest wall cavity is reduced, giving your lungs less space to expand. Over time this can cause chronic respiratory issues, hence why early detection and management is key. Should scoliosis become that severe, surgery would likely be recommended to realign the spine with rods and screws. This would be determined by a spine specialist.
Management & Home Exercises
Typically in moderate cases, a custom back brace may be used to help prevent the curve from progressing. The use of a back brace depends on the degree and location of the curve. The orthotist, spine specialist and a physiotherapist would work together with the individual in creating a bracing program, which is what I had. My brace had to be worn for 8-12 hours a day, and it was recommended for me to wear it to sleep. I can only imagine that the current braces being used today are more discreet and more comfortable than the one I was subjected to. Most braces today can be hidden under normal clothing, and the child can continue with most athletic activities.
If you have gotten this far into the article you’re probably wondering, what can I do at home to manage scoliosis, and how/where do I start?
With scoliosis some muscles become overworked and tight, while others become overstretched and weak.
As with most conditions, the holy grail medicine is exercise, the first line of defence! It’s important to identify these muscles to give the appropriate exercises. This is something that can be done by your doctor or physiotherapist. Below I have outlined some common exercises prescribed for scoliosis (demonstrated by my friend and founder of Ontario Physiotherapy Online)!
1. Slow Cat-Cow
2. Thread The Needle Child's Pose
3. Extended Child's Pose with Side Bend
5. Quadratus Lumborum Release
Will scoliosis limit me in being active?
Scoliosis does not have to be a debilitating condition when managed correctly. In fact, there are several professional, successful, talented world class athletes, who unbeknownst to most people have scoliosis. Like Jessica Ashwood, an Australian swimmer who competed in the summer 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Or Emelia Gorecka, a long distance runner who holds multiple gold and silver medals in the European Cross Country Championships. Emelia required to be in a brace 23 hours a day for 3-4 years, only leaving her 1 hour a day to train! And last but not least, Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, has been very transparent about his struggles with scoliosis. His condition contributed to his infamous (yet uneven) stride, which has been studied so diligently around the world in hopes of discovering his secret to speed!
In conclusion, it’s important to note that scoliosis is manageable. The key is early detection, exercise and preventing its progression. That’s why it’s important to consult your doctor and physiotherapist to create an approach that works best for the individual. Reaching out to support groups can also be beneficial if the individual is struggling with the experience, especially with teenagers and younger children.
My personal journey with scoliosis started off as an agonizing one from an early age but I am thankful that it has brought me full circle. I was introduced to a wonderful, gratifying profession of physiotherapy where I can relate to my patients that are going through both the physical and emotional journey of living with scoliosis - which I am proud to be a part of. Remember, that this is just a bump in the road. Scoliosis is manageable, and should not limit you from living your lifestyle - or your dream!
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with friend. If you have any questions about scoliosis or if you wish to seek physiotherapy treatment, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Negin Kamyab, Registered Physiotherapist from Toronto, Ontario.