With each passing year since my spinal fusion (yesterday marks 22!) new aches occasionally pop up reminding me that, while I had corrective surgery, scoliosis is still very much present in my body—and always will be.
I’m aware of the usual culprits by now: discomfort on my left side where my upper curve lingers, a tight torso that’s not easily able to be stretched, an unfused lower back that’s susceptible to all kinds of maladies.
Last year a new offender entered the ring: my hips. Turns out, unlike the Shakira song, my hips do, in fact, lie. I thought that, despite being uneven, they were fine this whole time!
Because of how scoliosis curved my spine, one hip is higher than the other (while I’m fully aware of this I can never seem to remember which one). This imbalance reared its ugly head in the form of intense hip, and consequently glute, pain following two half marathons last year.
Running can sometimes be a pain in the ass—but I never thought I’d experience it in the literal sense.
This past September, I sought the help of a physical therapist. I know by now when I need professional assistance in dealing with a scoliosis-related ailment, and this was one of those times. Plus, the husband and I were just about to start marathon training and I wanted to nip this in the bud (or maybe I should say “butt” in this case).
I’m accustomed to regaling PT’s with my scoliosis history upon our first meeting, from old aches (see above) and new challenges (also, see above), to what my pain management looks like. This time, I also purposely looked for a professional with scoliosis—hoping for a deeper understanding of what the condition does to the body as to better assist me in getting to the root cause of my issue (and also perhaps some sympathy and acknowledgement that I’m not experiencing phantom pain).
I spent about four months in PT, going maybe two times a month. Sessions were $175 a pop and, while I was in dire need of the one-on-one attention this running-specific PT provided, I also wanted to craft my own schedule of treatment. I am very diligent with at-home workouts and perhaps a little overly confident in figuring out a treatment plan. Or maybe I was just too stubborn (and cheap?) so pony-up twice a week for four months. Your guess is as good as mine.
Over those four months, I learned a lot about breathing and core work (ridiculously important not just for scoliosis treatment but also running), the differences between targeting your hamstrings versus your glues in an exercise (so subtle), and that my hips/glutes/hamstrings are super weak—definitely a runner’s problem, but scoliosis also adds a layer of complication to that.
So 27-some odd years after being diagnosed with scoliosis, why did my hips decide, “ya know what, we’re going to be a pain in your ass starting…now”?
I try not to dwell on those types of questions because too much speculation over something you have no control over is an exercise in futility, but it doesn’t mean they don’t cross my mind. I did actually ask my PT this. The conclusion: it’s as much of a mystery as scoliosis itself. Too hip to be square, I guess (if you’ve read other posts of mine, you should know by now that my puns come with no shame).
Throughout the fall as we continued marathon training and building up to longer distances, I structured my exercises to be doing something almost every day. My PT helped guide me on which groups of exercises to tackle each day, based on the muscles targeted. I wrote out a grid in my bullet journal so I could mark down what I did and when (and also remind myself what to do each week as the list of exercises grew).
There were days when I didn’t feel like doing anything at all, but even then, I tried to do something—even if it was a simple breathing exercise that took little more than engaging my core on the floor. Doing the little things can truly add up to bigger things down the road. I wouldn’t be a marathoner if I didn’t believe that.
While this marathon training cycle had its ups and downs (namely COVID for both my husband and I), I can very happily say that I finished the marathon without any pain in my glues or hips. I was actually walking pretty normally afterward—even going down stairs. Quite the feat after a marathon!
I’ve lived with scoliosis in my life longer than I’ve lived without it. The most eye-opening revelation I’ve had about the condition—which came about only in the last year, shockingly—was that a spinal fusion won’t change the fact that I have scoliosis. My thoracic curve pre-surgery was 52 degrees; it’s now 26 degrees, which is technically still considered moderate scoliosis. Just because I had corrective surgery doesn’t mean that my scoliosis will disappear. I am, and will always be, in its grips. And while I can’t control that, what I can do is continue to learn the exercises and recovery techniques that will help me manage discomfort when it arises.
Otherwise, I’ll just keep ending up with a pain in the ass.
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