Since we are in “Back” to September this month, I thought there was no better time than to share my own personal journey with my own back issues!
Yes, even your physical therapist can be plagued by back problems; however, by following my own advice that I give to my patients, I’ve been able to maintain a pain-free and active lifestyle that I love.
I was diagnosed with scoliosis at an abnormally young age, around the age of 5. Scoliosis is a condition that involves abnormal curvature of the spine that affects between 2-5% of people. It is more common in girls than boys, and typically diagnosed between the ages of 10-15. If gone untreated and it becomes severe enough, it can cause back pain, muscle imbalances, and even affect the internal organs such as the lungs and heart.
Starting in early elementary school, my mom and I would make the drive down to St. Paul, MN to see an orthopedic specialist at Gillete’s Children’s Hospital. My treatment started out pretty routine; I had to wear a CTLSO (cervical – thoracic – lumbar – sacral orthotic) brace for 23 of the 24 hours a day. The brace was supposed to keep my spine in place as I grew to keep my curve from worsening, and maybe even improve it. It was a little more involved than others as it spanned from up under my skull/chin and all the way down to my hips/pelvis. I wore this in elementary school, and looking back I’m thankful that I had to wear it so early because I wasn’t self-conscious about it then!
When I was in 4th grade, we discovered the brace wasn’t working and my scoliosis was getting worse. The best treatment option was major surgery to stop my scoliosis from worsening, along with saving my lungs and heart as they may have become compromised should my spinal curve worsen. So, on February 19, 1997, I underwent a T3-L3 spinal fusion. This was quite a large procedure that involved 12 hours of surgery, 2 rods and multiple screws, over a week of a hospital stay and missing a few weeks of 4th grade. It took around 6 months following my surgery until I was fully able to return to all activities with no restrictions.
Despite my major surgery, I feel very lucky to have lived pretty much pain-free. My back rarely hurts except for a few episodes here and there. I’ve always been very active; I love to exercise. It has been important to me to keep my core, hip and pelvic floor muscles strong to help protect my back and prevent pain. I also find time to stretch in order to keep my body as mobile as possible. I truly feel that taking care of my body and staying strong is the reason why despite my major surgery I am able to remain pain-free.
I also take care of my back muscles to keep myself pain-free. My regimen includes having dry needling treatment done to the muscles along my spine, and monthly massages. Physical therapy along with strength training and exercise are both proven methods to reduce back pain when scoliosis is present. I know, because I’m living proof!
To have an extensive of a surgery as I have and not deal with pain is a huge testament to the power of exercise, PT, and taking care of yourself.
If you or someone you know has back pain associated with scoliosis, we can help!
PT will be able to determine appropriate strength and flexibility exercises to keep the muscles that support your spine working the best they possibly can, along with various hands-on treatment methods to help reduce pain. It is possible to live an active, pain-free life even with scoliosis, or spinal fusions!