My Journey Living with Severe Scoliosis

Over two years ago, I sat at my desk crying. My back hurt so badly that I couldn’t bear the pain. Waking up became increasingly difficult. Long commutes were a nightmare, and the thought of sitting for long periods made me cringe. It was painful to wear certain clothing and even more excruciating to maintain a normal work schedule. At 23 years old, I never pictured myself living with chronic pain. How did I get here?

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While I’ve been lucky to appear “normal,” I have lived over half of my life with severe scoliosis, which often remains invisible and misunderstood by the public.

My whole life I have been an overachiever, pushing myself past my limits, partly because I love a challenge, and partly because I wanted to hide the fact that I have a severe scoliosis. I just finished my finance degree. I can run marathons. I act in theater and on camera. There’s absolutely nothing wrong, I told myself. Except at one point, the pain was too much to ignore anymore. 

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My whole life, I’ve been a long-distance runner despite my scoliosis. In college I ran cross country, and over a year ago, I completed the San Fransisco Half Marathon.
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The performing arts are a huge part of my life. I’ve always loved theater and acting, and I never let my disability get in the way.

Although on the outside I appear to live a normal life, my x-rays reveal something different. With a 50-degree lateral curve in my spine, I’m part of the 2-3% of the population that suffers from scoliosis.  While the spinal deformity affects about seven million people world-wide, most people live with a curvature of 15-degrees or smaller. However, I’m part of the .1% living with a curve of my severity. Because a lot of people with severe curves get surgery, I found myself struggling to manage pain and find proper treatment for my condition.

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This is the actual x-ray of my spine. Although I appear normal in photos, my x-ray reveals a 50-degree lateral curve, known as idiopathic scoliosis. There is no known cause or cure for my condition.

While some doctors poked and prodded at me like I was some kind of science experiment, others simply brushed off my “curve in the spine” telling me it didn’t hurt. Behind closed doors, I silently suffered without the courage to speak up about my pain, even to friends and family. At that point in my life, it became obvious that scoliosis is largely invisible and misunderstood by both the medical community and public.

The symptoms go far beyond a simple spinal curve. Scoliosis is a complex disorder that is categorized as a disability of the spine. Patients offer suffer from chronic pain, chronic fatigue, headaches, muscle spasms, anxiety, and depression. The spinal deformity can also contribute to low self-esteem and body-image issues due to uneven shoulders, hips, and abnormal back curvatures.

With Scoliosis, each day is different. You have days when you feel completely great, and other days when you cannot get out of bed. It takes a lot of work and lifestyle changes to live a functional life with my degree of scoliosis.

How it Began: My Diagnosis and Early Scoliosis Treatment

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with scoliosis soon after my doctor discovered that my sister had an acute curve of 15 degrees. After that, it became a slew of x-rays and bracing until I was 18 years old. I wore a plastic back-brace under my clothes l for 18 hours a day, only taking it off for sports and activities.

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This photo was taken around the same time I was diagnosed with scoliosis (7th grade). I worked very hard to maintain a normal social life and activities, even though I wore a back-brace 18 hours a day.

While the bracing sounds like it would have been a miserable experience at school, it rarely bothered me. Most of the time, it wasn’t noticeable under my clothes. My friends and I actually had fun decorating it with stickers and taking turns trying it on, which seems kind of odd to me in retrospect. But hey, maybe it was just in style then (LOL).

Fast-forward to my college years, and I starting seeing a chiropractor for increased pain and chronic headaches. I ran cross-country and stayed very active on campus, which helped keep pain levels down most of the time. However, long hours studying would irritate my back and cause muscle spasms and headaches that lasted for days, and sometimes even weeks at a time.

After college, I began a career in corporate finance that required long hours sitting and traveling cross-country. This is when my pain levels increased and my health really began to suffer. My once active lifestyle turned into a sedentary one that only allowed one workout a day. I began researching alternative treatments to surgery and seeing chiropractors on a regular basis.

There’s Help: You Don’t Have to Live with Chronic Pain

Now, almost three years later, I’m happy to say that I’m functional again and enjoying life, my energy has improved and the muscle spasms have decreased.

Through the support of my doctors and physical therapists, I have learned how to communicate to others about my scoliosis and my limitations. I have learned that I do not have to suffer with chronic pain that limits my quality of life.

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After 13 years of being diagnosed with my condition, I’m finally learning to live pain free with scoliosis.

When an instructor in a yoga class or workout class singles me out for my posture, I feel comfortable letting them know I have scoliosis. There’s no shame in my disorder. My body cannot do everything perfectly, and that’s okay.

Finding the right doctors have been crucial on my journey. After years of trial and error, I’m thrilled to be working with Danielle and Jessica of Battle Born Health, who specialize in one-on-one total body restoration, undictated by insurance company mandates. This has allowed for a personalized experience that is tailored to the needs of my curve. After just a few weeks of treatment, I’ve noticed many improvements in mobility, posture, and overall functionality. I’m excited to continue treatment and see what improvements are made to my health.

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Living with scoliosis isn’t easy, but it has made me a stronger person, inside and out.

These days, life has become less about being perfect, and more about learning to do what’s best for my body.

My spine may never be straight, and I may never be able to do a perfect push-up. But, I have so much more than that. I have gained the strength and confidence to live my best life—curves and all.

I hope you’ll follow me on my journey as I share my story and progress of living a full and active life with scoliosis.

Christmas tree

Living with Scoliosis: Staying Healthy for the Holidays

It’s that time a year again. Between traveling, late nights, events, and sugary sweets, holidays can take a toll on our bodies. While most people enjoy more relaxed schedules during Christmas and Thanksgiving, any change in routine can affect back-pain and energy levels of people living with scoliosis.

For me, any little change, from a chair to a different bed, can make my muscle pain flare up.  Knowing that I would have to make some sacrifices, I worked with Jessica from Battle Born Health to come up with a holiday plan to limit back pain while traveling to visit family this season.

Traveling for the Holidays with Scoliosis

Here’s how I plan ahead for a trip to stay healthy and productive:

Add extra activity into your schedule

I always feel my best when I’m more active. Sitting for long periods has always been my struggle with scoliosis, so I make sure to add in extra activity when I’m visiting family and friends. Each year, my family does a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning and it’s a great way to get active on the holiday.

Eat regular meals and moderate sugar

Good nutrition is important for keeping up energy when you have scoliosis. While holidays may be full of richer foods, it’s important to not skip meals and eat at regular times. I try to limit sugar and have only a “few bites” of dessert if I’m in the mood for it.

Make the best of your sleep situation

Sleeping in a firm bed is best for my back. Couches and other sleep arrangements aren’t great for my back. However, if it’s just for a few days I’ll try to bring my own pillows or try to make the arrangement as comfortable as possible.   

Do physical therapy exercises and stretches

Before my trip, Jessica worked with me to review the exercises I could do while out of town. We prepared my workout schedule and exercises before the trip and I made sure I’d have the right equipment handy.

Stay positive and breath through anxiety

Dealing with pain and fatigue during the holidays never creates good memories. As much as I try to stay healthy, certain points of the trip are always harder than others. During these times, I try to breath and focus on ways I can relax my muscles or get extra rest during the trip.

While no holiday is perfect, these tips keep me feeling my best throughout the season so that I can enjoy all of the festive activities with my friends and family.

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*Disclaimer: My writing is from personal experience and meant for educational purposes only. Please consult a professional for medical advice concerning scoliosis. Battle Born Health is happy to answer any questions regarding back pain and treatment options.