9 Lesser-Known Facts About Scoliosis
#6 Will Surprise and Inspire You
At age ten, I was diagnosed with a ten-degree C-shaped curve in my upper spine. By age twelve, I had to get a C4 to L4 operation and had two Harrington rods placed in my back. By the time I had to get spinal fusion surgery, I had an S-shaped curve down nearly the entirety of my spine. In under two years, I had gone from having a mild case of scoliosis to having moderate-to-severe scoliosis.
Having scoliosis for most of my life, I’ve learned so much about it over the years. Through conversations with my doctor and surgeon, what I studied in biology classes in school, and research, I learned quite a lot about my spinal condition.
Let me share some interesting, surprising, and inspirational facts about scoliosis with you.
1) Scoliosis affects so much more than the back and spine
It's no surprise that a negative effect on one part of the body can negatively affect other parts of the body. But, many people who don't suffer from scoliosis believe it solely affects the back and spine.
People with scoliosis have an unaligned spine, which would clearly cause back problems, as well as issues with any surrounding areas. But, scoliosis can cause issues in the neck, legs, feet, and even internal organs, due to the imbalance it causes throughout the entire body.
Many people with scoliosis have issues breathing, even from light exercise or simply walking. This is due to the rib cage being imbalanced and the pressure that the imbalance puts on the lungs.
There are also many symptoms those with scoliosis suffer from on a daily basis: muscle spasms, numbness, and body aches to name a few.
In my own experience, I have constant numbness in certain parts of my back and occasionally get muscle spasms. I lean more to my left, due to my left curve being slightly worse than my right curve. I experience pain in the left side of my neck, my left shoulder blade, and under my left foot every single day because there is more pressure placed on the left side of my body.
2) There are multiple types of scoliosis
When people think of scoliosis, they usually think of the common side-to-side C-shaped or S-shaped scoliosis. But, there is also kyphosis and lordosis, which are two variations of scoliosis.
Kyphosis is a forward-rounding of the upper spine while lordosis is an inward-rounding of the lower spine.
3) Carrying heavy backpacks does not cause scoliosis
Parents often blame themselves for what their children experience. Parents want to protect their children from any type of pain or problems. And while that's understandable, parents shouldn't blame themselves for their child's scoliosis. Though their genes may play a part in their child's scoliosis, parents can't put the blame on themselves.
Sending children to school with heavy backpacks is not a cause of scoliosis, despite parents' concerns.
I have all brothers, all of whom did backpacking on camping trips multiple times a year, on top of carrying heavy backpacks every day at school. Not a single one of them developed scoliosis.
As for me, I've never gone backpacking, did everything I could to lighten my school backpack, but still developed a moderate-to-severe case of scoliosis.
4) Some people develop scoliosis in adulthood
Prepubescent boys and girls (more so the latter of the two) are the most common scoliosis patients. However, some adults can develop scoliosis long after their childhood.
Usually, adult-onset scoliosis is caused by degenerative disks and osteoporosis, a common issue many seniors face.
However, some adults could be undiagnosed with scoliosis until they've reached adulthood.
5) People who have scoliosis can still play sports
I remember it like it was yesterday: being in P.E. in middle school, and actually being good at something in the class. I was in seventh grade, and I’d kicked ass at volleyball. A few times over.
I enjoyed it so much, I thought about joining my school’s team or joining a team when I got into high school in a couple of years. However, I had to get my spinal fusion operation in seventh grade, shortly after this amazing experience.
My dreams of being an Olympic volleyball player were crushed as quickly as they developed. Not so much because I had scoliosis, but because of the surgery and recovery process.
There’s a myth that people with scoliosis can’t play sports or exercise. But, there are many sports that people with scoliosis can play!
While some sports are better than others (like swimming) for people with scoliosis, scoliosis patients can play sports, at least recreationally.
Also, many scoliosis patients benefit greatly from yoga or pilates. These exercises keep the back and core strong, and can potentially improve scoliosis.
I myself play basketball and volleyball for fun, and it hasn't negatively affected my back. I also do a little bit of yoga and pilates.
Whether or not you have a disability, it's good to stay active, even if only a little bit. Find a sport you like and go have some fun!
6) This Gold Medal Olympian has scoliosis
Here’s a fun, surprising, and inspiring, scoliosis fact: the Olympian known as “The Lightning Bolt” and “The Fastest Man in the World,” has scoliosis!
Retired Jamaican Olympian Usain Bolt has an S-shaped scoliosis curve that curves more to the right, making his right leg slightly shorter than his left. You’d think this would prevent someone from being a fast sprinter (let alone the fastest in the world), but this clearly didn’t stop Bolt from being the best in his sport.
Bolt has won a Bronze medal, three Silver medals, and twenty-three Gold medals during his thirteen-year career. Eight of those Gold medals from his participation in Olympic tournaments. He retired after competing in London in the 2017 World Championships.
Though Bolt’s career ended four years ago, it’s nevertheless inspiring to people who have scoliosis, and surprising to both those with and without the condition. It also shows that people with disabilities can do amazing things. (But, we already knew that.)
7) The exact cause of scoliosis is (mostly) unknown
Many people know that genetics plays a big role in scoliosis. Genetics plays a role in many different health problems, which is why your doctor(s) regularly ask about your family history during visits.
But, the exact cause of scoliosis (in most patients) is unknown.
There are many potential causes for scoliosis from spinal tumors, infections, birth defects, and more.
One surprising cause of scoliosis is smoking. Smoking can cause neck and back problems, potentially being a cause of scoliosis. Or, at the very least, smoking can make scoliosis worse.
There's another reason to quit smoking. Or, even better, never start.
And, remember, it's not caused by carrying heavy backpacks.
8) Many people with scoliosis also suffer from anxiety and depression
As I mentioned in number one on this list, scoliosis can affect so much more than our back and spine. A common issue many with scoliosis may struggle with is anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and depression are common among individuals with a wide range of health issues, and scoliosis is no exception. Physical health and mental health have a bigger connection than most people think.
As someone who has anxiety and depression, and scoliosis, I can attest to this fact myself. When I was much younger, coping with scoliosis was very difficult.
Luckily, there are many resources available to those struggling with anxiety and depression.
** If you're struggling with anxiety and depression, and are looking for help, click here. **
9) Scoliosis can’t (always) be completely corrected
I had my corrective surgery back in the early 2000s. During that time, Harrington rods were the most innovative scoliosis treatment available. However, my doctor informed my family and I that there would be no way to completely correct my scoliosis. The risks were too great.
Despite there being more innovative and less invasive treatment options available today, there’s still one major concern in treating scoliosis: the spinal cord.
Any time there is a spinal issue, the spinal cord is of great concern to doctors, and for good reason. The spinal cord snapping, tearing, or being injured at all (even just a little) can cause a vast array of serious problems. The most common problem being paralysis.
Preventative treatments, like a back brace, only prevent scoliosis from progressing. Back braces cannot correct scoliosis; they only prevent the progression of the condition.
One way scoliosis can be "corrected" is if somebody "grows out of it." If somebody gets a small curve at a young age, that doesn't get any worse, their spine could straighten out as they continue to grow.
My surgeon assumed I would grow out of it after getting my Harrington rods put in. He assumed I'd grow to be six feet tall! I grew three inches from the surgery itself, but never grew anymore after that, so my spine didn't straighten itself out.
Whether you have scoliosis yourself or know somebody who has the condition (or you’re just curious), I hope you learned something new today.
People with scoliosis can do just about anything with the right lifestyle, support, and mindset.