Guest post- Anna Martin: 'Scoliosis - the good, the bad and the brace!'
For this particular blog post we turn our attention to Anna Martin- Choreographer, personal trainer, presenter for dance fitness brands and dance instructor to the stars. Read on to see how Scoliosis has impacted her life and how she has overcome it. Over to Anna... "I've had quite a few people come to talk to me about my back since my last post, primarily worried about teenage relatives so I figured why not get in a bit deeper. Obviously this isn't aimed at teens so it's not clean! #justsayin
Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine which is prevalent in girls although it can happen to guys too. It often develops in pre-teens and teenagers during the growth spurt which is when mine reared it's bendy little face. I distinctly remember being sat cross legged on the floor in front of Neighbours (standard!) and putting a hand on each side of my lower back and thinking 'oh that's weird'. Out I trotted to my Mum in the kitchen saying 'Muuuummm I can hold my spine in one hand and not the other' to which she replied 'Don't be so bloody stupid, turn around let me look'. After half an hour or making me touch my toes, she realised I hadn't been at the crack pipe and off we trotted to the doctor the very next day.
As a teenager it was painful. I had a thick plastic brace which went from the base of my spine to the base of my neck and finished under my boobs at the front. It was hot. It rubbed my skin off and left it raw. I had to wear a bodysuit underneath and then a t-shirt on top and then my school shirt to try and stop it sticking out. I had to stand and sit up really straight all the time otherwise the top edge poked out the back of my shirt. I remember a boy in my class punching me in the stomach once. He nearly broke his knuckles 😂. I hated wearing it, but if I didn't wear it I felt like my spine was collapsing. It was all in my head but I needed the brace on to feel supported. I stopped wearing it permanently at 18. It was optional from 16. I chose to wear it every night because I was paranoid it would get worse.
Now they offered me the surgery, screwing rods to my spine. However I politely declined. Even from the age of 13, as a family we had decided that seen as it was potentially my muscles that were doing the wrong thing and pulling my spine to one side, it was a case of retraining them and training the other side to fire more effectively. We tried ultrasound, massage, aqua therapy, physiotherapy, rehabilitative exercises, stretching, electro muscle stimulation, yoga, pilates........ you name it we did it.
I danced from the age of 18 throughout my twenties. My back was up and down. Down being huge spasms and taking Tramadol (an opiate based painkiller) with Relentless Energy drinks before performing. I had a spasm one day out of the blue and I literally looked like an old woman, it was agony. I was hunched to one side, I couldn't lift my legs to get in and out of the car. I physically remember screaming in the car park at work trying to get one leg into the footwell. The doctor at the walk-in centre said it was the worst spasm they'd ever seen 🏆🏆. It lasted 3 days and I was stoned out of my tiny little mind on Diazepam, Tramadol and Co Drydamol. F#ck that shit. EVERYTHING pissed it off. Sitting on a chair with that bucket bit at the back, any car seat, wearing heels, wearing flats, sitting on the floor, standing too long, lying in bed for 30 minutes longer than it wanted. Something had to give. In the end, I had a cortizone injection in my spine, started working out more and I laid off the dancing a little in exchange for teaching dance fitness.
Lifting weights made me feel stronger. It made my core much tighter. I felt like I was wearing my own corset. Don't get me wrong I have fucked it up lifting in the gym.... slightly out posture on a moderately heavy deadlift when my back was in a shit mood and my workout was over. But I persevered and I even competed in a bikini competition just to prove that I could. That was big for me. Being basically naked with people judging the balance of my muscles. But I did it.
For me there are a few key factors that make this condition almost an insignificant part of my day to day life:
Lifting - the more muscle I have the stronger I feel. I also feel less 'at risk' and more confident with my ability to do something. I started training to look better about 10 years ago. I began sessions with Mike from Built by Fitness last summer and I have literally no words for how much this has changed my entire shape, muscle balance and ability to contract muscles I didn't know would ever work. That's the thing with scoliosis, every muscle is overstretched, lazy or slightly in the wrong place, getting it to do what you want it to do is a task and a half. A task which somehow Mike has managed to batter through with his endless patience and creative thinking.
Experience - this is being able to look at something and go 'errr no I'm alright thanks' because I know it's not worth the risk BUT without being a massive pansy and cutting my nose off to spite my face. So for me it's a no for ice-skating, any form of rollercoaster/mega bumpy experience or training for a marathon, but it's a definite yes to working through it with deadlifts, squats and the occasional run for fun.
Sports Massage & Physio - I have a fortnightly sports massage with the evil elbowed Luke from Zen Anatomy which stops my muscles from getting tight like a tiger and as soon as I feel some weird shit happening I book in with him or Jo from Fresh. For me it's a no brainer. I like to think of myself as a race horse..... temperamental as fuck but worth the investment 🤣🤣
Mindset - I refuse to be defined or overly restricted by the fact I'm not built like everybody else. I think I was lucky because my parents brought us up to flip two fingers to any limits we felt upon our ability to obtain something. I've battled with being self conscious about it. It used to make me feel physically repulsed if someone put their hand on my back. Now I just think fuck it. It's just a back and it holds my head up in the right place so get over it love. Move on.
Fear - Fear could have just as easily held me back, fear that I would damage it, fear that it would get worse, fear of what people thought of it. However for me it has worked in the opposite direction. I'm scared, frigging scared, of getting old. And by old I don't mean aging, I mean OLD. Like not being able to get out of the chair, shuffling around in pain, being bent over all the time (all of these things have happened to me). The fear of living like that is my biggest motivation. If I can do anything to avoid putting myself in that situation I will. No excuses.
So what I would say to anyone diagnosed, yup it's scary, especially when they start waving the 'rod' card at you, and yep that's a route you may have to go down, I'm not a doctor. However, suck it up. It's still your body, it's still under your control, your life is still your own....... it's just gonna have a couple of challenges thrown in there. Stay fit, get strong (physically and mentally) and enjoy life. It's just a body, it's a vessel for your personality and legendaryness (new word invented by me), look after it as much as possible but do not let it define who you are. We are so much more than what we look like and I for one am not spending the only life that I have being a wallflower simply because I'm a bit bent."
The full link to Anna's blog post can be found here