Rachel Mulvaney is the Vice President of Curvy Girls, an international support group for girls with scoliosis. You might remember that we interviewed the group's founder, Leah Stoltz, on the Scoliosis SOS blog last year - this time around, we have a Q&A with Rachel, whose scoliosis story is rather different from Leah's but no less inspirational.

Curvy Girls Scoliosis

So, Rachel - when did you first learn that you had scoliosis?

I was nine years old when my school nurse detected my curves during a scoliosis screening examination. With a 35-degree curve, bracing was immediately recommended - I wore a brace 16 hours a day for nearly 3 years. However, several months after I'd been discharged from bracing, my back pain worsened and we learned that my curve had progressed to 42 degrees.

It was during this time that my mother was doing research for the book that we were writing, Straight Talk with the Curvy Girls. We learned about a scoliosis-specific exercise called the Schroth method, and in 2010, I travelled to a scoliosis clinic in Wisconsin for an intensive two-week programme.

And how well did the treatment work?

I believe it worked very well for me. The back brace did stabilise my curves, but my scoliosis continued to progress as I was never educated on how to hold my body in an upright position without depending on my brace. It was the Schroth method that improved my scoliosis and eliminated my chronic back pain. Those scoliosis-specific exercises taught me how to strengthen my weakened muscles, maintain correction, and most importantly, live a pain-free life.

After eight months of consistently doing the exercises, my 42-degree curve reduced to 30 degrees. This was a surprise to my orthopaedic surgeon, as I was already skeletally matured. And my success did not end there - by the summer of 2013, my curved had reduced to 22 degrees.

How did you get involved with Curvy Girls?

I became involved with Curvy Girls before we even had a formal name! Twelve years ago, my physical therapist introduced me to Leah Stoltz, who told me that she wanted to start a scoliosis support group for people our age. When she asked if I would be interested in attending a meeting, I said yes without any hesitation. Several weeks later, I went to the first meeting at her home on 6th August 2006.

Tell us about the role you play in Curvy Girls today.

Today, I am proud to say that I am the Vice President of Curvy Girls. Since 2012, I have co-led and co-created our International Biennial Curvy Girls Scoliosis Conventions with Leah. I also serve as a mentor for our Curvy Girl Leaders in the New York and New England regions.

I also make myself available to educate and advocate for the Schroth method. Over the years, I have invited medical professionals (as well as newly-diagnosed families) into my home to demonstrate how effective these exercises can be for a scoliotic spine.

And what do you do in your life outside of Curvy Girls?

Outside of Curvy Girls, I work as a Care Coordinator II at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where I facilitate and manage an oncologists' clinic and help run our chemotherapy unit. I am also preparing to go back to college to receive my master's in Public Health. I have a strong interest in research, epidemiology and preventative care.

Has helping other people with their spinal curves helped you to come to terms with your own condition and experiences?

Absolutely - helping other girls was like a form of medicine to me. Educating families about the Schroth method helped me to discover a purpose and drive within me that I never knew existed.

Throughout my bracing years, I was told that my chronic back pain did not exist because scoliosis 'does not cause any pain'. I was one of many patients who were spoken to in this way. But after learning a programme that both validated and eliminated my pain, I was determined to spread the word. I wanted to make sure all Curvy Girl families had the opportunity to know that this treatment existed. How can we make the best decisions for our health if we don't know what all of our options are?

What advice would you give to a young girl who's just been diagnosed with scoliosis?

I would encourage that young girl to join a Curvy Girls chapter so she can see for herself that she is not alone. I would tell her about our conventions and how many girls she will meet from all around the world who are going through the same experiences she is.

And what advice would you give to the people close to them?

For family members, I would advise them to read Straight Talk with the Curvy Girls. This book includes health education, emotional support, and a dedicated section for parents.

For teachers, please show empathy and understanding of the needs she may have. Allow her to step away from her desk if she begins to feel back pain, as sitting for too long in a back brace can lead to discomfort. Excuse her from class if she needs to temporarily leave and take her brace off.

For friends, please be kind and accepting. This is a sensitive time for your friend. Offer to take her shopping to find clothes that will make her feel more confident when she wears her brace to school. You could even suggest helping her name her brace in order to make the brace a part of the friendship you all share.

Visit www.curvygirlsscoliosis.com to learn more about Curvy Girls, or follow @CurvyGirlsScoli on Twitter.

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we treat scoliosis using a Schroth-based programme called ScolioGold therapy - learn all about it here.

Travelling with Scoliosis

If you have scoliosis, you have probably suffered from back and/or shoulder pain in some form over the course of your life.

People with scoliosis often experience increased discomfort when they have to sit down for long periods of time. This means that long-haul flights and even long car journeys can become logistical nightmares - scoliosis-related pain can occur at any age, and even a mild spinal curve can cause a lot of pain.

Preparation is key!

When you book your flight, try to plan a schedule that will minimise your stress:

  • Consider taking a flight where there will be fewer people on board (and thus more room for you to lie across the seats if necessary).

  • Contact the airline prior to booking your flight and let them know that you suffer from back pain. They may be able to provide you with more information on which flights are least crowded.

  • If possible, try to limit your down time between in-flight connections or layovers.

  • If you can help it, don't schedule a flight that will require you to wake up extremely early.

During the journey

Once you've done some preparation, you can start thinking about how you will keep pain at bay during the flight itself:

  • Some kind of lower back support - e.g. a back roll or a couple of pillows from the flight attendant - can be a good way to prevent slouching and keep your spine straight, minimising lower back pain.

  • Bring a pillow to support your neck. Travel pillows can often be purchased at the airport if you forget to bring your own.

  • If you are unable to position your legs at a right angle while seated on the plane, ask for something (pillows, blankets) to prop your feet up and keep your knees at a right angle. Doing so keeps stress off the lower back.

  • If you have long legs, request an exit row or bulkhead seat, as these generally offer more leg room.

  • Ask for an upgrade! Occasionally, airlines will have additional seats with extra leg room available in first / business class, and if you explain your situation, they may upgrade you free of charge.

  • Move around during the flight. Staying still for prolonged periods stresses the spine and can make back pain much worse.

  • See if there is room at the back of the plane to do some quick stretches - these can improve flexibility and ease stiffness. Just make sure you stay in your seat during turbulence!

If you are a Scoliosis SOS patient and you're planning to go on a long car journey or flight, make sure you speak to your ScolioGold therapist and get some advice on what you can do to make your journey as comfortable as possible.

Contact Scoliosis SOS >

What to Avoid When You Have Scoliosis

Here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, we do our best to help people with scoliosis live the lives they want. Our scoliosis treatment courses aim to reduce the condition's impact on the patient's lifestyle, and we've achieved some truly heartwarming victories over the years - for instance, we've enabled numerous people to enjoy their favourite sports again, and we made sure that one young man was able to follow his dream of joining the army.

Having said that, there are some activities that scoliosis sufferers are better off avoiding (usually because they put unnecessary pressure on the spine, which can cause the curvature to get worse). Here are 5 things we recommend steering clear of - please remember that all cases of scoliosis are different, and that you should consult a medical professional before engaging in any activities you're unsure about.

1. Looking down at your phone

When you bend your neck forward to stare down at your smartphone (adopting a posture sometimes known as 'text neck'), the effect on your spine is as though your head were significantly heavier than it actually is.

Of course, we're all glued to our smartphones these days, but we're not saying that you have to put your device down for good - just be aware of your posture when you're using your phone, and try to avoid bending your neck forward if possible.

2. Lifting heavy objects

Lifting large weights puts pressure on your spine, and if it's already curving to one side, the extra pressure can make that curvature even more pronounced.

Scoliosis sufferers should endeavour to avoid lifting heavy objects alone. If you find yourself tasked with carrying a large weight, ask someone else to help you with it.

3. Certain exercises

Exercise is an important ally in the fight against scoliosis - indeed, our own ScoliGold treatment method is primarily exercise-based. However, certain exercises and stretches can do more harm than good when you're coping with a curved spine.

Read our blog post on Exercises to Avoid for more information on this subject.

4. One-sided / impact sports

Some sports are more problematic than others for scoliosis patients. To assess whether or not you should get involved in a particular sporting activity, ask yourself:

  • Will I be colliding with other players? Sports like rugby, hockey and lacrosse are best avoided for this reason.

  • Will I be putting more stress on one side of my body than on the other? Examples of one-sided sports include golf and racket games like tennis and badminton.

For more information on this topic, read our blog post on Sports to Avoid.

5. High heels, flip-flops, and other shoes that don't provide much support

When you're purchasing footwear, it's important to look for shoes that will give your body the support it needs. High-heeled shoes can put your spine under a lot of stress, but so can overly flat footwear such as flip-flops. Try to wear shoes with good arch support (orthotics/insoles can help with this).

If you are worried that your scoliosis will prevent you from participating in your favourite activities, please contact Scoliosis SOS today to arrange an initial consultation - we may be able to help you beat your condition.

UK Snow

With the weather set to take a turn for the worse yet again this weekend, we want to make sure that all Scoliosis SOS patients are ready and prepared for the Beast from the East 2!

Another cold snap may soon be upon us, so please make sure you take the necessary steps to look after your back and stay healthy.

 

Very cold weather can affect anyone - however, certain people are more vulnerable than others.

You should be particularly careful if:

  • you're 65 or older
  • you cannot afford heating
  • you have a long-term health condition, such as heart, lung or kidney disease
  • you're disabled
  • you're pregnant
  • you have young children (newborn to school age)
  • you have a mental health condition

 

Keeping your home warm can be key to remaining fit and healthy.

Please read the following tips on how to keep your home warm:

  • If you're not very mobile, are 65 or over, or have a health condition (such as heart or lung disease), heat your home to at least 18°C (65°F)

  • Keep your bedroom at 18°C all night if you can, and keep the bedroom window closed

  • During the day, you may prefer your living room to be slightly warmer than 18°C

  • If you're under 65, healthy and active, you can safely have your home cooler than 18°C if you're comfortable

  • Draw your curtains at dusk and keep doors closed to block out draughts

  • Get your heating system checked regularly by a qualified professional

 

More top tips for coping with the 'Beast from the East 2':

  • Make sure you wear sensible, correctly-fitted shoes. With the ground covered in snow and ice, it is easy to slip and hurt yourself. ScolioGold patients all know how important it is to keep up your exercises to maintain your corrected posture.

  • Be sure to stock up your cupboards and make sure you are eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Staying healthy in the cold weather will mean you are able to exercise and prevent pain and progression caused by your scoliosis.

  • Making sure you stay warm is very important as there has been significant evidence to suggest that cold weather can cause an increase in back pain. An increase in back pain can significantly reduce quality of life and can often result in a downward spiral of events.

For further information on how to look after your back this winter and reduce pain cause by scoliosis or hyperkyphosis, please call Scoliosis SOS on 0207 488 4428.

Mattress For Scoliosis

We all know how important it is to get a good night's sleep, but that's a lot easier said than done when you're suffering from scoliosis. Although some scoliosis patients don't notice their condition too much at night, many others experience pain and discomfort that can make it difficult to doze off.

A mattress can't cure your scoliosis, but you may be able to ease some of your discomfort by choosing the right mattress to sleep on.

 

Choosing a scoliosis-friendly mattress

When you have an abnormally curved spine, it's incredibly important to choose a mattress that gives your back the support it needs. This is so you can distribute your weight evenly, which should relieve the pressure on your twisted spine. 

With this in mind, we would recommend investing in a good medium-to-firm mattress that doesn't give too much when you lie on it.

If you're finding that your mattress is too firm for your liking, you can always use a mattress topper for added comfort. You'll want to pick a topper that is around 2 to 3 inches thick; any thicker and you start to lose the benefit the firm mattress provides.

 

Other factors to consider

We recently shared some tips for sleeping with scoliosis, and in that blog post, we explained how pillows and sleep positions can affect your quality of sleep (both positively and negatively). Once you've found the right mattress for your condition, you will hopefully see a big improvement in your ability to sleep throughout the night - however, if you are still struggling, consider these other mitigating factors:

  • Do you have too many pillows? Pillows can elevate your head too much, which can put pressure on your neck, shoulders, and back.

  • Are you consuming too much caffeine before bed? This can make it difficult to drop off and disrupt your sleep pattern.

  • Try to go to bed at the same time each night. This will teach your body to follow a sleep routine, which has been proven to aid sleep quality.

 

Where can I find the right mattress for my scoliosis?

There have been plenty of tests conducted to determine which mattresses are most suitable for scoliosis patients. If you're looking to invest in a mattress that will help with your discomfort, you may find these links helpful now that you know what you are looking for:

If you have any questions about your condition - from the best mattress for scoliosis sufferers to how you can begin to treat your curved spine - we at Scoliosis SOS would be more than happy to help. Get in touch with our expert team and book your initial consultation today.

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