Feature in Backbone magazine

This month I was proud to have my blog featured in the Autumn edition of BackBone magazine (available to members of the Scoliosis Association UK) for a blog post I wrote for International Scoliosis Awareness Day (ISAD) back in June last year.

Backbone feature
Feature in Backbone magazine

I love getting involved in International Scoliosis Awareness Day, which falls on the last Saturday of June each year, as I think it’s vitally important in helping to raise awareness of the condition on social media.

Scoliosis is a huge part of my life and I’m making it my mission with this website to provide help and advice to others with scoliosis and to those who may be facing or recovering from scoliosis surgery. I myself never had much support or anyone to turn to when I was first diagnosed at the age of 14 and I think this is so important.

I have recently been spending a lot of time on my blog, you may have noticed that the blog URL address has changed slighty since the Backbone article was published (it does re-direct don’t worry, so you can still access it via the old address!)

This is just the beginning of the transformation of my blog and I plan to do much more to raise awareness and money for the Scoliosis Association over the coming months as I build this site up. Watch this space! 🙂

Helpful Posts

My Story

Preparing for Scoliosis Surgery

Scoliosis Surgery Recovery

My Scoliosis Scar

Costoplasty Questions

I’ve written loads of posts about my scoliosis surgery, recovery, pain, exercises and living with scoliosis in general.

You can use the search box or click on the categories to find the blog posts most relevant to you 🙂

If you have any questions about my experiences, or about scoliosis in general, please do contact me at helpformyscoliosis@hotmail.co.uk or comment below and I’ll do my best to help.

Louise X

Fitbit quote

I heart my Fitbit <3

This post contains affiliate links

It’s a known fact that sitting down all day is bad for us and this especially true for those of us with scoliosis  – personally I find that my back hurts a lot more and feels much stiffer if I don’t move around regularly. Walking is a fantastic way for most people with scoliosis to stay in shape as it doesn’t put too much pressure on the back and over time it can help to keep the back and core strong, which can help to protect the discs in lumbar spine and reduce pain. This is vital if, like me, you have had spinal fusion, as staying fit and strong can help to prevent disc wear and tear below the fusion. Walking can even help with losing weight, which inadvertently may help to reduce back pain over time by reducing the amount of pressure on the spine.

Now, I have always considered myself pretty active and it is because of my scoliosis that I try to go to the gym 3-4 times a week, but the problem is that (like a lot of people) I drive to work and then I work in an office and so I’m sat down for the majority of the day Monday – Friday, which does not help my back or core muscles at all.

So, in a bid to move more, in January this year I bought myself a Fitbit Charge HR. The reason I bought the HR version initially was not to purely monitor my steps, but to also monitor my heart rate at the gym, as I wanted to make sure my heart rate was in the right “zone” for working out and I wanted to know how far I could safely push myself to get fitter. The HR version also monitors your sleep which is pretty cool.

As soon as I started using it though, I got addicted to counting my steps and it came as a bit of a shock to see how few steps I actually did in a day. I knew that sitting down all day in an office was bad for my back and that I did most of my activity after work, but having my Fitbit really highlighted how bleak my average daily step count was.

With the Fitbit you can set yourself a step goal for each day, and the recommended number of steps is 10,000 per day (about 5 miles). What became quickly apparent, was that in an average work day, I was struggling to even reach 3,000 steps, plus I had long periods of time throughout the day where I was inactive.

I find that having my Fitbit on really does encourage me to get up and move around more often at work, even if it’s just to go and make a cup of tea or walk the longer way back to my desk. I now make sure that I go for a 30 minute walk everyday at lunchtime and I go to the gym after work everyday if I can. I find that if I can do these two things, I usually meet my 10,000 a day step goal quite easily in the week and I can often get up to 15K steps on a “gym day” depending on what I do (the Fitbit doesn’t record steps for things like indoor cycling or spin classes).

What’s worrying though, is that in an average work week, if I DON’T go for a walk at lunchtime or go to the gym I will get around 2-3K steps in a day, which I think is pretty poor. If I go for a 30 minute walk at lunchtime but don’t go to the gym I will get around 6K steps, which is better but still a far cry from the recommended 10K. This is worrying because the majority of office workers will be in the same boat and probably getting around 3-4K steps a day, which is not even half of what they should be getting. I think it highlights that, for people with sedentary jobs like myself, you really do have to make a conscious effort to fit exercise into your daily routine.

I’ll be honest, having my pitiful step count on my wrist and on the app (especially when compared to my friends who have more active jobs) really does push me to go for a walk everyday at lunchtime, or head out for a walk/run at the weekends, even if it’s cold or raining! Whereas pre-Fitbit, on an average workday I would have happily worked through lunch or just sat at my desk, in my car or in the kitchen at work to eat my lunch, which would not have done anything to help me or my back.

I do find that getting 10,000 steps is much easier for me at the weekends, I usually find that a 90 minute walk does the job nicely and this can be fitted in fairly easily. What’s interesting though, is how many steps I do when I’m out shopping at the weekend, out for the day, or away on holiday – for example, it’s not unusual for me to do up to 25,000 steps a day when I’m out shopping, which goes to show how bad office work can be (I now use it as an excuse to go shopping at the weekends!)

Another good thing about the Fitbit, is the fantastic app which features a dashboard of your daily stats and some challenges (workweek hustle, weekend warrior and goal day), so you can basically compete with friends to get the most steps in a day, work week or weekend. I must admit this really brings out my competitive side and I have often found myself walking/running up and down the corridor of my flat or running furiously on the treadmill at the gym to get more steps and win the challenges (or just not come last)!! Plus, competing with friends and earning the various Fitbit trophies and badges that are on offer also helps with keeping motivated.

I would go as far to say that my Fitbit has been once of the best things I’ve bought this year, it’s changed my life and sadly I think I would find it difficult to live without it now, or particularly to exercise without it – I feel a bit lost if I’m not wearing it and I hate having to take it off to charge it.

Fitbit quote

If you are into running, it’s also fantastic for that as the HR Fitbit also monitors your heart rate and can be used in conjunction with apps like Runkeeper.

Fitbit dashboard
Fitbit dashboard

If you don’t fancy splashing out on a Fitbit there are also plenty of free apps out there that count your steps. The health apps that come free with most smartphones now are pretty good and will do the job nicely, for example the iPhone Health app, the only downside is that you need to remember to have your phone on you all the time.

There are also Fitbits that will simply track your steps, so if you’re not bothered about the sleep tracking and the heart rate monitor that come with the HR Fitbits, these are an alternative lower cost option. There are of course lots of other fitness trackers out there, my advice would be to do your research and get the one that looks right for you.

Why not give it a go and see just how many steps you do in a day?

You could start by using an app on your phone – it may just surprise you. I guarantee walking more (if you can) will help you to feel fitter and stronger, which may help your back pain over time as you get stronger :-). One word of warning though – getting your daily step goal can become highly addictive!!

If you are new to walking or struggle with walking, even just improving a bit on what you do now each day will help. The Mayo Clinic recommend adding 1000 daily steps each week, so if you start monitoring your steps and find you are doing 4000 steps per day now, simply set your goal at 5000 steps each day. I know increasing my daily steps has helped me and I’m definitely more active and feel fitter now than before I started tracking my steps.

Also, if you’ve recently had scoliosis surgery it’s important to try and move around as much as possible and I think that having a fitness tracker could help with that. I’m not suggesting you try and do 10,000 steps early on in your recovery as that will be far too much at first but it’s important to try and walk a bit each day in the first few months post surgery and make sure you move around the house frequently if you can – whatever feels comfortable for you. I say this because when I was recovering from scoliosis surgery I actually developed Oedema in my leg because I was sat down too much and not moving enough. So it’s important to try and keep moving during recovery, even if it’s just a little bit when you can to limit the chance of developing Oedema or something more serious (such as a blood clot).  You can read more about my recovery from scoliosis surgery here.

P.S In case you are interested, the Fitbit I have is the one below (I have it in purple :)). I bought mine from Argos in the sale but they are cheaper on Amazon at the moment. If you already have a Fitbit and want to challenge me please do contact me and I’ll add you on there :0)

 

 

P.P.S

Get some decent trainers!

It’s important to note just before I go, that whilst walking can be a great, low impact way for me to stay in shape post spinal fusion, it’s also important that I protect the un-fused lower discs in my back (L3 and below, as I’m fused T3-L3) and avoid putting too much strain on them.

As an extra precaution, if I’m walking long distances I usually wear my Skechers memory foam trainers, which I originally bought to do the Cancer Research 26 mile Shine Walk a couple of years back (I now have two pairs!) I love them because they are sooo comfy and the memory foam helps to absorb some of the impact, which I find helps with the lower back pain I sometimes get after walking long distances. Plus, I think that they look great too as there are lots of vibrant colours and designs to choose from. I really can’t recommend memory foam trainers enough if you have scoliosis or suffer from low back pain – I don’t think I could go back to wearing “non-memory foam” trainers now.

You can buy the Skechers memory foam trainers from any Skechers store but they are also available from Amazon and tend to be much cheaper online in general.

Keep on movin’

Louise X

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing or starting a new fitness routine.

scoliosis-quote-what-does-not-kill-me-makes-me-stronger

Body Pump

So, for about 6 weeks now, I’ve been going to Body Pump classes twice a week at my gym.

For those who don’t know what Body Pump is, it is a 60 minute class where you use a barbell and weights throughout. It focuses on strengthening and toning by using light to moderate weights with lots of repetition and pretty much covers all the major muscle groups in your body so you get a full body workout.

A few years ago, such a concept would have terrified me.

You see, I have always avoided any type of weight based exercise in the fear that I would hurt my back and so as a result, I have always focused on cardio exercises in my 9 years of gym membership. However, the irony of this is, in attempting to protect my back by avoiding any type of weight lifting or weight machines, I have inadvertently made my back weaker and more susceptible to injury.

It is the reason why I injured my shoulder running last August, because my back and shoulder muscles were so weak after years of neglect. It was also a bit of a wake up call when I had a body scan test at the gym  earlier this year, which revealed I was way below normal for skeletal muscle mass. It kind of all made sense and I’m really surprised I haven’t injured myself sooner to be honest, with all the exercise I do.

So my recent shoulder injury, the results of the body scan, the advice from the gym instructor and physio I was seeing at the time for said shoulder injury, all suggested that I needed to get stronger and build more muscle to avoid further injury in the future. It was the combination of these events that led me to book onto my first Body Pump class.

I won’t lie to you, the first class was tough. But not as tough as the days that followed where I struggled to lift my arms to open a cupboard door or to straighten my hair! Luckily though, I had started with the lightest weights available (1.25kg) on each side of the bar and (ignoring the instructor who kept shouting to the class to add more weight) kept them on for the whole of the class. Now, six weeks later, I am really enjoying Body Pump and it is one of my favourite classes.

I think the key for anyone doing a class like this for the first time (not just those with scoliosis) is to start gradually. Start with light weights and build them up slowly over a period of weeks or months to avoid injury. Many people in the class lift ALOT of weight, but most of them have been going for years. I try to ignore what everyone else in the class is lifting and focus on myself. It’s not always about how heavy the weight is, but about the repetition of the exercises – you can still benefit from the class by simply using the bar with no weight at all. I know I have a back condition and need to take it slow but I also know that over time, there’s no reason why I can’t lift the same as some of the others in the class.

I am very slowly building up the weights I use and I can feel myself gradually getting stronger – although it is early days yet. I am hoping that eventually, I will feel the benefits of complementing my running and cardio exercises with strengthening exercises, which is something I never really thought about before but which I now know is key for avoiding injury.

The other benefit of strengthening exercises when you have scoliosis is pain management – having a strong back, core and shoulders is so crucial for those with scoliosis and for those that have had scoliosis surgery as it can take the pressure off the discs in the spine and reduce pain over time.

So, this is what I’m focusing on at the moment. In all honestly the Body Pump class has been a revelation to me and I really should have started doing something like this sooner. Although, I’m sure I’m not alone in that I would guess many people with scoliosis avoid using weights for fear of hurting themselves. The truth I’ve discovered recently though, is that not doing strengthening exercises can cause worse problems in the long run. It’s a catch-22!

What I like about the Body Pump class though, is that you follow a structured routine and have an instructor who shows you what positions you should be in to avoid injury, whereas when I’m in the gym with all the weight machines and free weights I don’t know where to start!

I’m also complementing Body Pump with spin classes at the moment and I do bits of running in between (albeit not as much as I’m trying to focus more on strengthening my muscles).

Yes, sometimes I do worry that I may be doing too much and I might injure myself again, but I really feel that doing nothing (i.e. no exercise) is far worse and would cause me more pain and issues long term.

For me, keeping healthy and active helps me to take control of my scoliosis and also helps to keep my pain levels down.

I will update how I’m getting on with Body Pump over the coming months!

Stay strong 🙂

Louise X