Living With Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a disability that not many people ever think of, which is surprising because the number of people affected is quite large.

Scoliosis can be described as an abnormal curvature of the spine. Females are at a much greater risk for developing this condition than males. The cause itself remains mysterious, but studies have shown that a number of factors are involved, including heredity, age, and ethnicity. But a direct physical mechanism of scoliosis remains unknown.

One woman named Leah LaRocco, shares details of her life living with scoliosis. Leah first learned she had scoliosis when she paid a visit to her doctor at age 12 to receive treatment for Lyme Disease. An exam revealed that she had developed a small curvature at the bottom of her spine. The doctor recommended visiting an orthopedic surgeon who wanted to x-ray Leah’s spine every few months to monitor the curve’s progressive development. For Leah this became a part of her adolescent life she would rather forget. 

As she continued to grow taller the curve in her spine began increasing to the degree that her only alternative to slow down this development was to  start wearing a back brace, which as a teenage girl, was a mortifying experience due the brace’s appearance that resembled a medieval torture device. Even today, 20 years after Leah’s first diagnosis of scoliosis, treatment options remain the same: back brace or surgery.

The brace itself was made from a hard plastic that covered the chest and extends down over the hips. Internal pressure pads designed to reduce the range of motion of muscles that might be contributing to the growth of the spine’s curve were held in place by three, thick velcro straps. Clothing was often inadequate in hiding the brace.

Sleeping presented new problems also. The brace would dig into Leah’s skin, leaving bruises, no matter what position she adopted. The whole matter was made worse by the fact that plastic brace encouraged excessive sweating. 

Leah’s spinal curve increased to 48 degrees. At this point surgery became a solution her doctor emphatically pressed her to undergo. The procedure fuses the spine in place with bone taken from the hips in combination with a steel rod, something that Leah definitely didn’t want to do to herself. 

Luckily for Leah, her body eventually stopped growing while wearing the brace and the curve of her spine didn’t increase beyond 48 degrees. Today she lives with one hip slightly higher than the other, and few small scars on her torso due to the brace. She now visits a chiropractor bi-weekly to help manage her lower back and neck pain, which helps her immensely. 

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Yun Huang Yong