I have scoliosis. I was diagnosed with this many years ago, circa 7th grade or so. My spinal curve is now about 28 degrees – thank goodness it’s not any worse than that. I have tried so many different types of workouts for scoliosis and I have definitely found what works for me. I am going to discuss, in this blog, about the different events that have occurred in my life regarding scoliosis, as well as the most important workouts and stretches to do to maintain a healthy spine (along with a clean eating lifestyle).
As stated before, I was diagnosed in about 7th grade with slight curvature of the spine and I really did not do anything else about it (there was nothing to do at this point to be honest; scoliosis is what it is). I was a ballet dancer so I was constantly active and ballet helped me develop awesome (seriously, thank you ballet!) body awareness as well as a very strong core and overall excellent posture (lucky me). I never really followed up with doctors about my spine curvature until college – I just had periodic x-rays (circa 2007/2008). In September 2013 I was living back home in Mobile, Alabama and I decided it was time to go have a follow-up x-ray with supposedly one of (if not the best) the best doctors in Mobile. After that appointment I was told my spine was a 43 degree curve and that I should schedule surgery “right away”. My life fell to pieces. I left the doctor’s office IN TEARS – spine surgery is not an easy thing to endure nor are you the same person afterwards!! Upset and distraught and not knowing what to do next (I was running and lifting (lighter) weights at the time 5 days a week) – I stopped lifting and running and started going to Bikram yoga a lot. I thought weightlifting might be bad for my spine – as well as running – so I went to hot yoga 4 days a week or so. My back pain got worse. I was advised by a close friend in Chicago to get a second opinion by a doctor up there, so, that is what I did.
November 2013 I met with Dr. Richard Fessler at Rush University in Chicago. He is internationally recognized as an amazing spine surgeon – he has worked with teams creating the now widely used minimally invasive techniques. My doctor appointment with him was one of the best days of my life and just thinking about it makes me tear up. They did an x-ray and he, along with a colleague, came in to the room where I was waiting and told me I did not need surgery- AT ALL – and that my curve was 28 degrees – NOT 43. I started crying. WHAT A RELIEF! NO SURGERY! I am not making any of this up. Please, if you have scoliosis, always seek second opinions if someone says you need surgery right away. I am still not sure what the heck was going on with that first surgeon – or if all of that was a hoax to get money in their office or what – but I am so thankful that I was able to go get a second opinion by an EXPERT in Chicago. Go to the big cities, y’all, that’s where you will find the best of the best. My friend and I celebrated after that appointment with champagne (Pop’s for champagne)- what a fantastic day that was. I love Chicago.
Oh I have my picture with Dr. Fessler too – too good of a day to not document! Messy straight hair-braid and all…
MOVING ON….EXERCISES AND WHAT I DO NOW AND WHAT WORKS BEST FOR MY BACK…
I lift weights and I lift heavy and honestly this is the best thing for my back. Having done ballet for SO many years, and whilst doing so having one of the most flexible spines, too much hot yoga was awful for me. Hello flexible…
It made my back hurt so much. I am one of those people that is crazy flexible (because of all the ballet and I still stretch) – my hips, ankles, spine, etc., everything is super flexible. I needed to work more on strengthening than flexibility so that is why I lift heavy. I do all the normal and regular lifting as you can see in my workouts, however, I have decided to cut out deadlifting. I also plan to focus more on unilateral work on my back days, i.e., single arm work: single arm dumbbell rows, single arm cable rows, kneeling cable rows, etc. I will likely cut out barbell rows as well as those really hit the lats (latissimus dorsi) and I don’t want anything (including deadlifts) to make the left side of my back work more than the right. My left side takes the brunt of the curve so it’s slightly larger than the right side which is why working one arm at a time will be helpful, in my opinion as well as personal trainers and people I have spoken with. I had no back issues/tightness whatsoever until recently – after I did a heavy deadlift session. So I am listening to my body – NO MORE DEADLIFTS. It’s sad to me because I love lifting and want to improve all of my big lifts, but, I have to accept that my body does not agree with deadlifts, specifically.
So keep lifting! Don’t be afraid to do lat pulldowns, LOTS OF PULLUPS, squats (front squats are great for core strength), single arm rows, burpees, etc. etc.! I would personally say to listen to your body and what feels good or not – I noticed after having done a heavy deadlift session that I had tightness and inflammation – so I have to acknowledge that and not do those anymore and tweak my training a little. One thing is for sure: never stop training. Staying active is one of the best things you can ALWAYS do for yourself – no matter what condition you have. Scoliosis especially. Do a lot of core work and core stabilizers, squats are great for working your core so don’t be afraid to do those as well as planks, weighted bicycle crunches, back extensions (I would suggest a lighter weight – under 25# or so – once again not wanting to stress muscular imbalance), etc. Stretch a lot – I love the cat/cow yoga pose, downward dog, side bends, lunges, backbends (in moderation), among others. You can google stretches for scoliosis or stretches in general and basically I recommend to just be sure you are stretching after you workout. Stay active and eat CLEAN. And listen to your body. Running is fine also – impact work is great for your joints – but I wouldn’t recommend running marathons constantly and neglecting to strength train. Strength training is where it’s AT!
As usual, questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I am happy to answer questions or discuss anything further.
Oh don’t forget I was a gymnast too for a little while…another great way to build muscle and core strength as a child! I love gymnasts. They amaze me!