✦ June is Scoliosis Awareness Month. Veronica Lind, CEO of Brilliant-Online shares her personal story.
Health is one of the many subjects that we at Brilliant-Online strive to promote as much as possible. Typically we opt to highlight global or national landmark dates that shine a light on certain conditions or illnesses in an attempt to raise awareness and support.
The month of June is Scoliosis Awareness Month where, in the words of the Scoliosis Research Society, the goal is to “highlight the growing need for public education, early detection and awareness about scoliosis and its prevalence within the community.”
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is determined when the curvature of the spine measures 10 degrees or greater on an X-ray, according to the John Hopkins Medicine website.
Spinal curvature from scoliosis may occur on the right or left side of the spine, or on both sides in different sections. A spine affected by scoliosis is curved, usually over three dimensions - often appearing like an S or C - with a rotation of the vertebrae, which often gives the appearance that the person is leaning to one side.
Causes of scoliosis
The causes of scoliosis are unknown in approximately 80% of cases, although medical experts believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors to be the main contributory factor. While the condition can be detected in infancy or early childhood, typically it is during the adolescent and teenage years of 10-20 that it tends to develop. It is estimated that approximately 2-3% of the world’s population is affected and it is something that can worsen as the person ages. Sufferers of mild scoliosis tend to not experience too many problems although severe cases can negatively impact breathing and movement.
Treatments depend on the severity of the case and the age of the patient, but typically for less serious cases bracing, specific exercises, posture checking and surgery are all viable and common options. Medical News Today states how mild sufferers can treat the condition with specific regular exercises and stretches that can prevent the need for surgery and help improve the situation, citing examples such as arm and leg raises, pelvic tilts and abdominal presses.
There are numerous examples of celebrities that suffer from the condition, including actresses Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Laura Dern, Daryl Hannah, Isabella Rossellini and Shailene Woodley, musicians John Lydon of The Sex Pistols and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, sports stars such as Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt and American tennis player James Blake, and even the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankahman.
Veronica's personal story
Much closer to home, our very own CEO Veronica has suffered from scoliosis since a very young age, undergoing surgery in an attempt to rectify the condition when she was aged 16.
“I had to wear a plaster cast for 6 months before surgery. They literally hung me up suspended while they plastered me from neck to hip - it was quite the ordeal,” she recalls.
“My surgeon, Professor Cha Cha, inserted a Herrington rod (a stainless steel surgical device) which was aligned to my spine and fused using a bone graft from the hip. A total of 52 stitches later, I then had to wear a new cast for an entire year and I wasn’t allowed to leave hospital for the entire time. Also, to ensure the bones fused correctly, I wasn’t allowed to walk for an entire two months, meaning I learnt how to roll really well! I also think the surgery and the bone fusion stunted my growth as I am not very tall.”
Veronica recalls how learning to stand and walk after such a long period of inactivity was a challenge in itself, often leaving her feeling faint every time she stood up.
Images show Veronica and her "Scoliosis Friends" at the St Andrew's Orthopaedic Hospital in Singapore. The hospital is no longer operational.
There were other challenges that presented themselves. The long period involving surgery and recovery in hospital meant she had to drop out of college. She also had to continue wearing the brace for a further 3 years, including during her formative years at work. Yet it didn’t deter the driven young lady who recalls having no choice but to run with her brace on so as she could catch the bus to work each day, even if “I did look like a turtle when doing so!”
Despite the challenges Veronica tried her utmost to engage in activities that most youngsters of her age pursued at the time, including a variety of exercises. “I took up Muay Thai boxing of all things but had to give it up after a while as the boys I was competing against woud throw me to the mat and I was concerned I would end up snapping the rod in my back,” she remembers. Nowadays the less strenuous option of Pilates is a firm favourite, while yoga is challenging.
While the surgery no doubt helped, Veronica recalls how she did still suffer from pain in the ensuing years following her brace being removed, predominantly in the neck, back and hip. “I was like the tribeswomen you see on documentaries who wear rings around their necks,” she says. “My neck had been supported for so long, meaning the neck muscles had weakened, and letting it go was difficult for a while.”
How Pilates help Veronica with her Scoliosis
Pilates helped Veronica relief pain on her back and right hip. Pilates was done on the Reformer and Tower focusing on arm, leg and footwork.
"Pilates does not build bulky muscles and it is a great whole body work out while focusing on problem areas." - Veronica Lind
Veronica sharing her rather personal story is exactly what Scoliosis Awareness Month is all about – sharing stories and personal experiences to raise awareness and initiate a conversation around the topic. All medical conditions are, of course, different but that shouldn’t mean one is any less significant than another. Take the example of mental health and how it has become such a prevalent and widely-discussed topic, compared to years gone by when it was perceived much more so as a stigma. It isn’t necessarily a case of comparison but rather of attaining a broader understanding so we can collectively work towards more preventative, adaptive and inclusive measures to make those suffering much more comfortable within our society.
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