June is Scoliosis Awareness Month, an illness I knew very little about until this month. I now know that it is a debilitating condition that can affect people at different stages of their lives, with four distinct gestation starting before birth, to early childhood, adolescents and then adulthood.
Scoliosis is derived from the Greek word meaning, “crooked” and, as the word suggests, it is where the spine curves – either sideward, or in an S-shape. Scoliosis occurs most often in the upper back area and can be very painful for sufferers, because the curve of the spine can irritate, squash, or stretch the nerves. It can also put a strain on joints, which can then become worn or inflamed.
Scoliosis in adults
The Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK) says that much of the pain in adult onset (de novo) Scoliosis is caused by the discs in the spine becoming worn. The discs sit between the vertebrae and act as a cushion, stopping the vertebrae from rubbing against one another. If that ‘cushion’ is taken away, then the discs will start to rub and that’s when it can get very painful for the sufferer.
Several forms of treatment for Scoliosis are currently available, including medication, spinal injections and, in some cases, surgery. However managing the pain on a day to day basis can demand the sufferer to seek alternative or complementary therapies, some of them exercise based.
Exercise: Find your own way
Recently whilst reassessing my own fitness regime and looking for more gentle, less weight bearing forms of exercise, I rediscovered Callanetics. So I was intrigued to find out when researching this article that the creator of Callanetics, Callan Pinckney, had various back issues including Scoliosis. She thus created Callanetic exercises to help alleviate her symptoms so as to help other sufferers.
Callanetics works on the principle of using small, pulse like movements to work each of the key muscle groups so as to develop the deep, intrinsic muscles. Keeping the body relaxed is said to provide more energy to the muscle group being worked. These techniques draw the body in and up as well as providing support for the back, allowing freedom from back pain, improving posture and pelvic floor.
When she wrote her revolutionary book back in the 1980’s Callan Pinckney (and became a household name to thousands of female fitness fans), she said that although exercise may not correct Scoliosis, in most cases it can help to minimise the pain and help the sufferer to function better. If nothing else, she recommended doing gentle stretches everyday to help relieve the pain.
Other complementary therapies such as the Alexander Technique, Aquatic physiotherapy, Pilates and Reflexology have all proved helpful to sufferers and more information about these, the condition and diagnosis can be found at the Scoliosis Associations website www.sauk.org.uk
As getting into the correct position for each exercise in Callanetics is crucial, I decided to have a one-to-one with a London based Callanetics instructor called Sarah. She told me how the exercises had helped her cope with the debilitating effects of hypermobility syndrome (a condition which allows joints to easily move beyond the normal range expected which causes terrible pains in her knees, fingers, hips and elbows) improving her posture and mobility through correct alignment. Although this condition is totally unrelated to Scoliosis, it is yet another example of how gentle forms of exercise can help ease back and joint pains.
1) Pelvic Wave exercise – an up and down, back and forward movement to strengthen the pelvis muscles and strengthen the back.
2) Callan Pinckney demonstrating the position she would sit in when she wrote her books. It’s a position she learnt while living in Nepal. She always said it made her back feel wonderful.