June is Scoliosis Awareness Month!

Many children who are sent to the doctor by a school scoliosis screening program have very mild spinal curves. However, when intervention is needed, the pediatrician may send the child to an orthopedic spine specialist. Specialist treatment options may include observation, bracing or surgery.

I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 12. I had a curve that was considered an “S” curve since the spine starts to form the shape of an “S”. The pediatrician sent me for X-rays and referred me to a Scoliosis Specialist named Dr. Hugo Keim. I had x-rays taken every few months to monitor my curve. Originally I was not considered an operative case but my curve had progressed 13 degrees in one month. The specialist recommended surgery to correct the curve and stop it from worsening while I was still growing.

Many surgical techniques can be used to correct the curves of scoliosis. The main surgical procedure is stabilization, by fusion of the curve. My surgery was many years ago and I had to be in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for 3 weeks. In my case, I had a 9 inch Harrington rod that is no thicker than a pen. The rod fused to my thoracic vertebrae and stops at the first lumbar vertebrae. After surgery, I had to wear a fiber glass trunk cast for 8 months.

The cast was cumbersome, hot and drove me crazy since I was a very active child. I would frequently just put on my bathing suit pants and wear the cast since it fully covered my trunk. The two facts that bothered me about having the surgery was, I was no longer going to be able to do back hand springs and Dr. Keim said one of my restrictions in the future was I could not jump out of an airplane.

Even though my spine is fused, one of my hips is slightly higher than the other, one shoulder blade protrudes more than the other and the right side of my ribs extend higher than the left. I am extremely grateful that I was able to stop my curve from progressing. Moderate to severe scoliosis can be really debilitating and really painful, not to mention dangerous to lungs and the heart. I am able to remain very active in life and control my back pain with proper body mechanics and monitoring movements that increase back pain. When I do encounter back pain, acupuncture is my saving grace!

Thankfully, many years later, surgical procedures are now less invasive with faster recovery times. It’s important to have an early diagnosis and there are a number of different resources for education like “Catch the Curve”,  which is a scoliosis video for young people. To learn more, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQmBIhnHnAE .