The picture above is of the Scoliosis in my spine. It gives a whole new meaning to “My Healthy Curves”. Let me tell you how it all started:
I was a chubby 13-year-old and In my best efforts to get fit, I decided to go out for a run. Not a giant marathon, but a short after-school jog with my friend and her dog. After around 20 minutes I’d managed to fall over and smash my ankle. When I say fall over, I actually mean that I jumped over a giant muddy puddle and slipped in the mud, post-puddle. I made it, though.
My mum dragged me to A+E she told me “if it isn’t black and blue, you will be”. It wasn’t black or blue and all that was running through my head was, if it’s not broken, why can’t I walk. The triage nurse referred me to X-ray “just to be on the safe side”. I hopped and crawled the whole way there. The girl with the broken toe got a wheelchair!
It wasn’t good
Although hardly swollen it turned out I had broken my ankle in 3 and smashed my growth plate. I was in the hospital for a week while they pondered over surgery. Apparently at 13 I “was hardly likely to grow anymore”, so I was sent home, and back off to school, I went in my wheelchair for the next 3 months. After regular outpatient visits, they discovered, at 13 years old, shock horror I was in fact still growing. I know right, who would have thought a 13-year-old still gets taller. I was taken into surgery and my growth plate was fixed together with a big metal screw.
But the damage was done. In 2009 I went for a chest X-ray after a bout of pneumonia. Turns out my chest was fine, but due to the growth plate issues I had developed scoliosis. I was referred to the physiotherapists for an appointment, but this never materialised. Nor did the regular X-rays and checkups I was informed of. So I just got on with it.
I don’t let it hold me back
I feel it, quite a lot actually. Obviously, I’m symmetrically disadvantaged when it comes to weight training. When I bench press, I can tell my right side is somewhat different to my left. I still squat, deadlift and do everything my able-bodied boyfriend can do. But there is a definite difference in strength and posture between each side.
My scoliosis is fairly mild. Some days it feels worse, some days it feels better. But I know when I need to stop. Looking after your back is one of the most important things, especially when you suffer from an injury or issue.
I visited a chiropractor recently who informed me that Scoliosis shouldn’t hold me back, in fact, some mild exercises can actually be beneficial. When done correctly deadlifting and squatting shouldn’t compress your spine, therefore should cause no issues. But you HAVE to make sure you’re doing it correctly.
I am no doctor, and I am not qualified to diagnose or give medical advice on anyone with a spinal deviation. Some could be worse or better than mine, so may not be able to function and exercise as well as I can, but here are a few tips I follow to help me stay fit with scoliosis.
How to keep fit with scoliosis
Focus on your core
I spend a lot of time planking. It makes me feel strong, probably stronger than weight training. I love building my endurance and the longer I can hold it the fitter I feel. Working on your core isn’t just about abs, it’s about building your body’s stability and balance, which someone symmetrically imbalanced is probably going to struggle with.
I always, always, always stretch before I work out. Ok, sometimes I forget, but I shouldn’t. Opening up your back and chest can help prevent any unwanted injuries and prevent aggravating your current condition. One side of your body is probably tighter, whereas the over is more stretched out, make sure you consciously make an effort to try and loosen up any tight muscles. Do some twists and exercise without weights first to open the movement and get comfortable with your positioning.
A tricky one. As this consists of a lot of stretching it can be great for some and awful for others. I for one found it a great way to stretch out my muscles and help relieve backache and tenseness from weights. It’s something you should probably talk to your doctor about first as I wouldn’t advise it for severe conditions, some of the poses can be difficult for able-bodied let alone us bendy spine folk.
Who doesn’t love a massage, and what an excuse to get these regularly? Look for a specialist in sports massage, or head to a chiropractor. Beauticians may be good, but may not know aswell how to focus on a client with a spinal deviation.
Speaking to specialist
Most gyms will have contacts in physiotherapy and sports therapy. These people normally have degrees in some form of medical science so it’s really worth getting in contact with one to see if they can help you. They will teach you the correct form to have when using equipment and give you tonnes of advice on what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Though they can be costly, don’t just head to the cheapest one because it’s cheap. Ask around for recommendations and advice locally.
That’s right, I work on my back. The more likely your back is to have issues, the stronger it needs to be. I deadlift, assisted pull-ups (I’m not strong enough to do the real thing), bent over barbell rows. Anything I can to help strengthen the muscles in my back. Ensuring I do a lot of unilateral strength training is also vital. One armed rows and exercise using dumbbells instead of barbells are great for making sure you’re not overusing one side of your body over the other.
Start with light weights and work it up. You could seriously over-do it and cause more injury than benefit. Light exercise, I find, helps me with pain but if I injure myself and have to take time away from it, the pain slowly creeps back into the picture. It may seem embarrassing at first, but ignore anyone else’s opinion – they’re probably to wrapped up in their biceps to even care. Paying attention to your form with lower weights is far more important than being able to lift heavy.
Be aware of your own limits
Stop when it’s too much. I never try and carry on if I feel there is an issue, it’s disheartening, believe me. I’ve almost been in tears in the gym because I’ve wanted to do something so much and my body has decided not to let me. If your body is in pain or struggling, it’s a pretty big indicator that you need to stop ASAP.
If you are struggling with scoliosis and exercising then I hope these hints and tips help, but please remember I am not a doctor and you should probably speak to one for advice before taking up any new training program. For future reading, it’s also worth having a look at this article from Muscle and Fitness about Barbie Barbell 17 time world champion powerlifter who is, herself, a scoliosis sufferer.
And information on Lamar Gant. A world record-holding powerlifter with idiopathic scoliosis.
You have 3 options when life throws a curve
you can let it:
- Define you
- Destroy you
- Strengthen you
Make it the latter