As June is scoliosis awareness month, I wanted to share some positive scoliosis stories, which will hopefully help to inspire you if you suffer with scoliosis or have had, are waiting for or recovering from scoliosis surgery.
I first “met” Roslyn Rachel via Instagram and I have to say, I find her such an inspiration to follow. She is a personal trainer and also runs FlexFitDance.com. I think she is an incredible role model for those of us with scoliosis, and personally has inspired me to be more confident and motivated to strengthen my back through exercise.
Below she talks about how her scoliosis has affected her life, the importance of fitness if you have scoliosis and her career as a personal trainer.
Firstly, I’d love to hear a little bit about you. When were you diagnosed with Scoliosis and what motivated you to start FlexFitDance.com?
I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 16, and then had the surgery when I was 18. That’s actually pretty old for a diagnosis; I’ve been told that lots of people have the surgery when they are between 14-16, but with me it went unnoticed for a long time. I had good posture from years and years of ballet lessons, so the usual tell-tale signs weren’t there! My mum noticed on holiday one year that one shoulder blade was more prominent than the other (a very common thing with scoli because of the rotation of the rib cage and the muscular imbalances). We went to the GP, who was very quick to say that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. Later that same day the GP called our home and said that she’d been googling it and that maybe I should come back in for a follow up appointment after all!
FlexFit Dance is something that I started whilst doing my qualifications to become a personal trainer. I “got into” the fitness industry after graduating from my dance degree and wanted a way to combine my love for dance, fitness and writing all in one! I talk a lot about scoliosis and the impact that it has had on my training.
How did scoliosis impact your day-to-day life prior to any treatment?
To be honest, it didn’t. Like I say, it went unnoticed for a very long time, and because I was dancing so often, I managed to correct my posture pretty much unconsciously. The body has this amazing way of adapting to any structural issues…although this often results in lots of muscular imbalances!
After diagnosis, I was strongly advised to go ahead with the surgery because of the severity of my curves (I had S shaped scoliosis which meant I had two lateral curves in my spine – one at the top, one at the bottom). The surgeon said that it would probably get worse without intervention. Even though I didn’t experience any pain prior to treatment, after I found out about it I did suffer from a loss of confidence and lots of insecurities. I was an adolescent girl who was wearing a ballet leotard on a daily basis, and all I saw in the mirror was my wonky hips and shoulders. Body image is a huge thing for teenagers as it is, and this is amplified when something like scoliosis gets shoved in your face!
I can see you underwent scoliosis surgery to correct your scoliosis. How did you find recovery and are you happy with the results of your treatment?
Gosh. That’s a big and complicated question! The decision to undergo surgery was huge for me. My surgeon was exceptionally talented at his job, but bedside manner and patient communication was not his forte! Going in to the operation I had no real idea how this was going to affect my dancing or my mobility. That was a huge deal to me but not something that western medicine is really designed to take into account. I felt a bit like I was going into it blind, but it was a gut thing – I knew I’d regret not having the op.
Having said all that, the 14 hour operation was a huge success. The curves in my spine were corrected by over 90%. It is now pretty much “straight”.
Recovery didn’t take too long. The first few days are a bit of a blur from pain medication but everything improved rapidly once I started standing and walking about again. I took my first step three days after the operation..it was tough and I felt super heavy from all that metal that is now holding my vertebrae in place!
I remember being really affected by the cold. I’d go out for a walk with my mum every day after I returned home from hospital. Not far – just down the road or to the nearby shops – but it was November and the cold weather made all my muscles seize up in a way I’d never felt before. I felt so slow at first but I suppose I got a little more confident with each step. I was back to daily life after a couple of months and even went back to my dance classes after about three to four months.
How does scoliosis affect your life now, post surgery?
It doesn’t dramatically affect my life at all, if I’m honest. I’m very glad I had the surgery.
Naturally are some minor things that I cannot do in terms of my spinal mobility. When you have scoliosis surgery, your vertebrae become fused wherever they attach to the Harrington (titanium) rods. This will differ depending on the severity of the Scoli. I’m fused from my second thoracic vertebra (T2) to my third lumbar vertebra (L3). Which is quite a lot! As the majority of my vertebrae don’t have the normal gliding motion that they should, I can’t flex, laterally flex or hyperextend my spine. No ab crunches for me at the gym! There are lots of little things like that that I notice, but there’s always a solution to any problem and nothing is life-changing.
I can see you work as a Personal Trainer. Many people facing the prospect of spinal fusion surgery may think they’d never be able to become a PT or get into fitness. Could you shed a little light on how you managed to get into exercise post surgery?
I actually think that getting into fitness is one of the best, most important things that you can do after having surgery of any sort. If you really get into the fitness industry, learn from reliable resources and meet knowledgeable people, it helps you to get a proper understanding of your body. Which in turn helps you to learn about your strengths, your weaknesses, what you need to work on and how – in so much more than a “I want to get fit and have abs” kind of way.
I wasn’t actually offered any physio or personal training at all after my operation. The NHS just can’t afford that sort of thing! For a few years I just got by on what I knew from my years of dancing. Then after I graduated I met my (now long term partner!) who was a PT at my gym. He taught me so much about how the body works in a way that doctors’ cant. I found it so interesting that I decided to get into it myself and a year later I was a qualified PT!
Many people are scared to exercise post surgery. Have you got any fitness tips for people who have had scoliosis surgery?
Take your time, but also don’t be afraid. You won’t jump into it right away. Like I mentioned – for the first month or so, I was struggling to walk one hundred metres down the road. It’s taken me years and years to build up the strength that I have now, but I’m so proud of it I can’t even describe.
Regardless of your specific fitness goals, people with scoliosis often have lots of little muscle imbalances – even after having the surgery. When you’re fully recovered and functioning, it’s definitely worth spending some time to strengthen the smaller, stabiliser muscles in the back, around the shoulder girdle, and in the pelvis. Learn to activate your deeper core muscles so that you have a nice, stable foundation and take some time to check in with your body and make sure everything is in alignment.
Realistically, having scoliosis, or having the surgery for scoliosis, shouldn’t hold you back at all in the long run, and going through that process will actually make you mentally stronger too.
Finally, what advice would you give someone suffering from scoliosis at the moment?
You’re not alone. Not in a smushy, cheesy, way. I mean seriously. You’re not alone. So many people have scoliosis. I currently do some work in a physiotherapy clinic and so many of the patients there present with scoliosis. In fact, since my own surgery, everywhere I have gone in my life, university, college, different countries that I’ve lived in, I’ve always met at least two people with a very similar story to my own. When I go anywhere I automatically look out for either the curve in the spine or that tell-tale scar at the base of the neck! When you start looking for it, you realise how common it actually is.
Which in turn means that there are so many people to talk to about it. I’m always happy to talk to anyone who is going through what I went through because when I was facing my own surgery, I felt so alone. I felt like the only person in the world who’d ever had to go through that diagnosis and that surgery.
If you don’t want to have the surgery, I’d strongly advise finding a good physiotherapist or even a highly qualified personal trainer. Get to know how your body works and no matter what happens, it won’t let you down.
If you’d like to share your story on my blog and help to raise awareness of scoliosis please feel free to contact me!