Scoliosis Body Image Infographic

What does scoliosis feel like?

Every case of scoliosis is different. Some scoliosis sufferers lead lives virtually unaffected by their condition, whereas others are constantly reminded of it. There is a lot of variation between the ways in which people experience scoliosis, and as a result, asking two people the same question...

"What does scoliosis feel like?"

...might result in two very different answers. In this post, we'll look at some of the physical pain that scoliosis can cause, and we will also explain how scoliosis can affect a person's self-esteem and body confidence.

Physical pain

Although some lucky scoliosis patients are scarcely impaired by their condition at all, in other cases there can be a lot of discomfort. The curvature of the spine itself is not a direct source of pain; however, it can cause pain in other ways. For instance, back pain may arise because the curve is putting pressure on your spinal discs, ligaments, nerves, and muscles. Sometimes this pain is merely uncomfortable; sometimes it can be seriously debilitating.

There are also cases where a severe curvature has caused misalignment of the hips, which can affect the patient's gait (how they walk). Over time, this can cause leg pain as the muscles over-compensate for the lack of balance.

If a spinal curve becomes extremely severe, it can lead to even bigger problems such as cardiovascular / breathing issues. This is because the curve of the spine progresses so much that it begins to twist the rib cage, which can reduce the amount of space your lungs and heart have to work properly.

Body confidence

Even in cases where there is only minor physical discomfort, for many scoliosis sufferers, we must also consider the added emotional pain of body confidence issues. Idiopathic scoliosis usually develops during adolescence, and teenagers / preteens tend to be especially prone to body image sensitivity. This can be a big issue, as scoliosis can result in a visibly curved spine, noticeably uneven shoulders, waist, hips and legs, and a leaning posture.

The treatment courses that we deliver here at Scoliosis SOS aim not only to treat the physical symptoms of spinal curvature but also to build up the confidence of the patient. We don’t think that anyone should be embarrassed about scoliosis, and it is our goal to treat every aspect of the condition.

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Wearing a scoliosis brace

Curvature of the spine can be treated in a number of different ways, but one of the most commonly-prescribed treatment methods of all is bracing. Scoliosis patients will often wear a rigid plastic shell known as a 'Boston brace' for as much as 23 hours a day, removing the brace only to bathe or shower.

Is bracing an effective treatment for scoliosis?

Bracing is usually only recommended if the patient is still growing. The Boston brace is most commonly worn by children and teenagers who are still going through (or have yet to undergo) the adolescent growth spurt.

The aim of bracing is not to reverse the patient's spinal curvature or reduce their Cobb angle measurement. However, bracing can sometimes be an effective way to halt the progression of the curve; in other words, a back brace won't make scoliosis get better, but it may stop it from getting any worse.

Scoliosis patients in the UK who exhibit a spinal curve of 40 degrees or more are often referred for spinal fusion surgery. If your spinal curve measures between 20 and 40 degrees and your body is not yet fully-grown, you may well have to wear a Boston brace to stop the curve progressing any further while you finish growing. Hopefully, the back brace will keep you from reaching the point of needing surgery.

Are scoliosis braces uncomfortable?

Of course, while most scoliosis patients are happy to wear a Boston brace if it means avoiding a surgical procedure, this treatment method does have its downsides. Some brace wearers find the brace uncomfortable, especially during the summer months when the weather is hot and the extra insulation is unwelcome. It can also take a while to get used to sleeping with the brace on.

Furthermore, a scoliosis brace may somewhat limit the wearer's ability to move around. While your brace probably won't be restrictive enough to disrupt your daily routine, you may find that it affects your performance if you engage in sports or other very physical activities on a regular basis.

Will the scoliosis brace be visible through my clothes?

In addition to the discomfort associated with wearing a Boston brace, many young scoliosis sufferers worry about the aesthetic implications of wearing a rigid plastic shell under their clothes every day. Most brace wearers are school-aged, and the possibility that the brace will make them look strange can understandably be a source of much anxiety for these young people.

Fortunately, modern scoliosis braces are very well-designed - each one is moulded to fit the shape of the wearer's body, and nowadays they tend to be very difficult to see when concealed by loose-fitting clothes.

How long will I have to wear my scoliosis brace?

In most cases, the patient will have to continue wearing their brace for as long as their spines continue to grow. For girls, this usually means 2 to 2.5 years post menarche; boys usually have to wear the brace until the age of 15-16. However, girls tend to stop growing a couple of years before boys.

Are there any alternatives to bracing?

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we use our own unique treatment method - ScolioGold therapy - to treat scoliosis patients and other individuals with curved spines. Unlike some braces, our approach has been shown to reduce the Cobb angle and effectively reverse the progression of scoliosis.

Mia, a 13-year-old girl from Bromley, came to our clinic a couple of years ago. Our ScolioGold treatment course decreased her spinal curve to the point that she was able to stop wearing her brace during the day and only put it on at night.


Contact Scoliosis SOS to find out more about our treatment courses and arrange an initial consultation with our scoliosis consultants.
Scoliosis & Body Image
 

'Body image' is the name given to your perception of your own appearance. It is not necessarily linked to how others see you - for example, someone may have a negative body image even if their partner finds their body very attractive.

 
A person's body image can be affected by many different factors, although it is often argued that the media plays a particularly large role. Magazines and TV shows have frequently been accused of promoting a single, idealised standard of beauty, and this can adversely impact a person's body image if they do not conform to that standard.
 
However, that's a discussion for another day. Today we'd like to specifically look at the impact that scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine) can have on an individual's body image.

The visible effects of scoliosis

The symptoms of scoliosis are many and varied. Many of them are invisible; for instance, you probably wouldn't be able to tell whether a scoliosis patient was suffering from back pains, compromised breathing, or reduced flexibility just by looking at them.
 
However, if we're talking about the impact scoliosis has on a person's body image, it's not the invisible symptoms we're interested in - it's the visible effects of the condition. Scoliosis sufferers are often identifiable by the following traits:
  • Visibly curved spine
  • Leaning to one side
  • Uneven shoulders, hips, legs, waist, and/or rib cage
These are the symptoms that can (and often do) negatively impact a scoliosis sufferer's self-image. Because these physical characteristics depart from society's definition of what a 'normal' body looks like, people with curved spines sometimes end up feeling ugly, unattractive, and/or awkward-looking.

Body image concerns amongst teenage scoliosis sufferers

Since idiopathic scoliosis (the most common form of scoliosis by some distance) usually develops during adolescence, there are many, many teenagers who suffer from scoliosis. If you've been through puberty, you'll know that pre-teens and teenagers can be very sensitive about how they look - low body image is common even amongst teens without curved spines, and so the psychological impact of scoliosis on adolescents should be a key concern for those who seek to treat this condition.
 
The problem is that most forms of scoliosis treatment focus on halting the progression of the curve itself. This is an indisputably crucial goal, but helping scoliosis sufferers to achieve a positive body image is very important as well, especially given the impact that a negative body image can have on an individual's mental health.

Boosting your body image

A little while ago, we conducted some research into our own ScolioGold treatment programme and its effect on patient body image. A detailed summary of this research project can be found here, but in case you're not able to read the full document right now, here are our key findings in brief:
  • Patients reported a significant improvement in body image post-treatment.

  • All age groups (juvenile, adolescent and adult) reported substantial improvements.

  • These results suggest that intensive exercise-based programmes such as ScolioGold could be a very effective approach to treating certain psychological impacts of scoliosis.
Click here to find out more about our exercise-based treatment courses, or contact us today if you'd like to book a consultation.
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