Scoliosis, also known as an unnatural curvature of the spine, affects almost seven million people in the United States, children and adults alike, and there is no known cause for the majority of the cases. While most individuals with scoliosis don't require surgery, they are likely to endure back and neck pain and trouble breathing on a regular basis. It's generally not a life-threatening condition, but scoliosis can diminish the quality of life — and if it's not getting the attention it deserves.
After living with chronic neck and back pain for 10 years, I was diagnosed with scoliosis in 2014. As creepy as it was to see a twisted version of my spine on the X-ray for the first time, it was a huge wake-up call. I realized had to do a few things differently in my life if I didn't want to be hunched over with a cane by the time I hit 40.
If you've also been diagnosed with scoliosis, you'll be happy to know that there are lots of things you can do to take control of your condition. We don't have to live in constant discomfort, and the sooner we understand that, the sooner we can get on track to feeling better. From yoga to choosing the right office chair, it's the little things that make a difference in our daily lives.
Here are seven things you can to protect yourself if you have scoliosis.
1. Invest In A Good Pillow & Mattress
What you spend 6-8 hours on top of every night can make a huge difference for your back. I didn't even realize I was living in black and white until I bought my first Tempurpedic pillow — then the whole world turned to color.
It's all about landing the right combination of comfort and support. Some people with back problems swear by memory foam mattresses, while others need a firm mattress. Do some research, and experiment to figure out what's best for you; what works for others might leave you feeling lousy.
Don't forget, though, to pair a magical mattress with a good pillow. A too-soft cushion will leave your head unsupported, likely resulting in nasty neck pain that shoots down to the rest of your spine. If you travel a lot, look for a compact version of your ideal pillow that you can take with you on planes and to hotels.
2. Practice Low-Impact Yoga
I know, what a surprise, a yoga teacher telling somebody to do yoga. But take it from the student version of me. Keeping up a regular practice has given me a tremendous amount of relief from the daily pain, as well as mindfulness techniques to be more aware of every part of my body. If you don't believe me, listen to science; a study at Columbia University proved that just doing side plank once a day for seven months reduces curvature by 32 percent.
But be wary of what kind of yoga you get yourself into. For example, I wouldn't recommend ashtanga, as it's a fast-paced exercise that includes more high-impact moves than you might find in other kinds of yoga. Practices like hatha and vinyasa flow are fantastic, though. Before you start any class, talk to the instructor and let them know your condition. They'll keep an eye on you and give you modifications, if needed.
One last yoga tip: backbends might seem scary at first, but they are extremely important, so try not to skip out on them! They strengthen the muscles in your back and release tension in the tightest of spots. When you do them on a regular basis, you'll achieve more mobility in your entire spine. Start slowly, though, and gradually work your way up to postures like Upward Facing Bow Pose.
3. Find A Medical Professional You Trust
A doctor can be a solid support system if you're living with scoliosis. They help you keep an eye on the progress you're making, give you useful advice on how to manage your pain, and discuss possible treatment options. If you haven't already, visit a few different professionals until you find one you really click with. It's important to have a good relationship with whoever you land on, because the last thing you want when you're dealing with pain is a doctor who doesn't really get you.
Be sure you find a doc, though, who is on the same page as you. Every lab coat out there is different — some will emphasize surgery, others will encourage holistic treatments, while some like to prescribe medications. Think about what you're looking for before you rock up to your appointment; that way, you know what kind of philosophy you want in a doctor.
4. Get Treatments Done Regularly
Just like yoga can relieve chronic discomfort, there are countless non-surgical treatment options out there that can do wonders for your body — acupuncture, chiropractic work, massage therapy, physical therapy, just to name a few. I've tried them all, and I'm an acupuncture/chiropractic girl myself. Alternating the two has done wonders for my everyday lifestyle, and I live in significantly less pain than ever before.
Deciding what treatments to embark on is definitely something that needs to be discussed with your doctor. They can give you the hard facts of what has worked for their patients in the past, and they may even be able to recommend you to someone they know and trust. Remember that you won't see immediate results from any of these treatments; you've got to stick with a regimen for a few months before you determine whether it's appropriate for you and your body.
5. Wear Comfortable Shoes
You don't have to go so far as a pair of clunky orthopedic shoes, but don't write off comfort for fashion every time you're getting ready to step out of the house. David S. Wolf, a podiatrist and professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, told Everyday Health that your feet are "like the foundation of a building." That means the pain you feel in your back usually starts with what's on your feet.
Footwear like flat flip flops and pinching stilettos could lead to shooting pain, and they might throw off the balance of your entire body. When shopping for shoes, look for an arch that fits the natural shape of your foot; this will give you the best support possible. If you find that every pair of shoes you get from department stores leaves you feeling cranky, you might have to see a specialist to get a custom pair.
6. Keep An Eye On Your Posture
I know firsthand how hard it can be to maintain the kind of posture that would make Julie Andrews proud when you've got a crooked spine. How can you sit up straight when your back unnaturally curves? It ain't easy, but it's of tantamount importance that we try.
By slouching or constantly leaning to one side, we're exacerbating the twist that is the culprit of our pain in the first place. Think about keeping your back straight, as if it's leaning flat against a wall, and your chin parallel with the floor. (Yoga can also help with this, but here are some other tips for improving your posture as well.) A lot of us with scoliosis will naturally have one shoulder raised higher than the other; that can't be willed away with a simple thought, so don't let that worry you.
You might not be too stoked to hear this, but crossing your legs also isn't the best idea for your bod. Dr. Richard Arrandt, a chiropractic physician in Chicago, told Fitness magazine that this position causes lower back pain (and it might give you some spider veins), which isn't surprising considering how it immediately takes you out of proper alignment. Avoid this posture at all costs.
7. Sit In Comfortable Chairs
Sometimes we don't even think twice about what we're given to sit in at the office or at school. They're usually uncomfortable, rundown pieces of furniture that have been passed down through a lot of people before your butt landed on it. Well, it's time to demand something better, people. You deserve to be perched on something marvelous! In fact, you need to be perched on something marvelous, for the sake of your health.
Most seats at work aren't fitted well to the body, leaving our lumbar spine with little to no support. And you guessed it, that equals lower back pain. Have a chat with your boss, explain your condition, and ask if they can get you an ergonomic office chair. Or, even better, request a standing desk.
The same goes for your workspace at home. Don't skimp on a sh*tty chair just because you want to save a few bucks. It'll only make you sore and moody in the long run. Test out a few different thrones and cushions until you find the combination that's just right. Your perfectly curved spine will thank you for it.
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