Melissa’s story probably began like most of yours. She was a healthy child who stayed active in extracurricular activities and enjoyed just being a kid. Then, during adolescence in middle school, she was given a surprising diagnosis: she had scoliosis. How she dealt with it as she grew into adulthood and finally found answers, strength and relief through the use of Schroth physical therapy is truly inspiring.(Spoiler alert: she’s my sister)
I am a 42 year old, health-conscious woman married to a loving husband with two amazing daughters, whom I enjoy homeschooling. I have a good life and try to live every moment to its fullest. But what most people may be surprised to hear is that for 20 years I have lived with daily, achy and often sharp pain in my back due to scoliosis that was diagnosed when I was a teenager. I exercise daily, which can include Pilates, walking and strength training. Thankfully, I have been able to avoid taking prescription pain pills. But some days are really hard to get through due to pain.
I have silently struggled with my pain and diagnosis as best I could, and it hit me hard a couple of years ago, when my youngest daughter was also diagnosed with scoliosis. It was then that I had had enough and wanted real solutions since I didn’t want her story to be like mine.
When I was diagnosed with scoliosis during a middle school health screening, I had no pain or symptoms. No one in my family had scoliosis, so no one was looking for it. It was recommended to my parents that I see a chiropractor to help. He adjusted me, and my clearest memory of that experience was leaving there crying in tears due to the pain of the adjustment. It hurt so bad! (FYI: I now know that no one with scoliosis should be manipulated since the vertebral bodies of the spine grow irregular). I was told by my doctor to ‘wait and see’ how the curve would progress.
I went on to high school and college with no pain or limitations, and yet unbeknownst to me, my curve was only getting worse. By the age of 22, I was working in hotel management, and my job required me to be on my feet all day long. I loved that job, but oh the pain in my back had set in, and it hurt! So off I went with my parents for x-rays at Miami Children’s Hosptial and to see the best doctor at the time for scoliosis. He said that I now had an ‘S’ curve that was 40 degrees and surgery was not recommended, unless I wanted it for cosmetic reasons. Once again I was told to ‘wait and see’ and hope that my rib cage wouldn’t puncture a lung! I did try traditional physical therapy with minimal relief.
When I was in my 30’s, after I had given birth to my beautiful daughters, I went in again for x-rays since the pain was only getting worse. This time the curve had progressed to 48 degrees and now borderline for surgery. Guess what? I was told to ‘wait and see’.
So when my youngest daughter got the diagnosis of scoliosis, I wasn’t going to ‘wait and see’ anymore. As a toddler, I intuitively knew that something wasn’t quite right with the way she walked. I took her to a pediatric orthopedic doctor, a podiatrist and countless visits to the pediatrician to try and figure out what was going on with her legs and feet. No one suspected scoliosis, not even me.
By the time she was 5, she was in special shoes with a lift and running was sometimes awkward. My sister, who is a physical therapist, looked at her and noticed that one hip was higher than the other and tried manual therapy which helped a little. She looked again months later ( since she doesn’t live near us) and noticed the same thing and a slight curve in her back. She recommended I go to an orthopedic doctor for evaluation. There she was diagnosed with mild scoliosis of 10 degrees, and you can imagine what words I heard next: ‘wait and see.’
This time, I wasn’t going to tolerate that phrase and immediately called my sister for her professional opinion. This was a defining moment in our conversation: she told me there was help with the Schroth Method. It is a unique 3-dimensional treatment approach that helps to elongate, de-rotate and strengthen the scoliotic spine. It aims to halt or even reverse the progression of the spinal curve. What a relief to hear those new words!
By this time, my sister had researched the Schroth Method and was training to be a certified physical therapist with this specialty. I too researched this myself and discovered that it is an intense certification and to only go to those who have this training and understanding of the scoliotic spine . She was able to connect me with the Paley Institute where I met Dr. Feldman. For the first time in my life I was not told to ‘wait and see!’ He agreed that the Schroth Method works and referred me to Lisa Ritze, PT, a certified Schroth-Barcelona physical therapist. She and other trained PT’s in this method have been working with both myself and my daughter since October 2018. We are very compliant with keeping up with the exercises and therapy.
It’s so important to always go to therapy for tune-ups since scoliosis tricks you into thinking that your spine is straight when it is so not! Plus you need to continue through puberty since growth spurts bring on big changes in the spine.
Over these past several months, physical therapy with the Schroth Method has changed mine and my daughter’s lives dramatically. I now have better tools to manage my back pain, and I am so glad that my daughter’s spine won’t have the opportunity to get to where my spine did. My daughter performs her daily exercises at home now and she knows the tools to help her back when she has pain or needs lengthening. It has also given her new and improved strength that she uses on the swim team! She said to me the other day, “this therapy makes me stronger, gives me space in between my ribs and makes my back feel so good!”
My x-rays last year showed an upper curve of 53 degrees and a lower curve of 51 degrees. I still do not want surgery and my new, well-informed doctor, is confident that I won’t need surgery either. I know that at my age I won’t be able to make big changes in the curve, but I can stop the progression and avoid early arthritis by doing the Schroth Method exercises .
I am so grateful for the conservative treatment of scoliosis through the Schroth Method! I would have given anything to know about this method back in the 1990’s, but I know now and will never look back. I am also thankful for the time, advice, dedication, passion, love and God-given talent that my sister has as a physical therapist.
Oh, and did I mention that her name is Joy Smith, PT?! Yep, she’s the one you need to go and see right now if you have scoliosis! I wish she lived closer so I could come to her new clinic as often as I wanted to do this therapy with her.
I am here to tell you with full confidence that this method works and to not waste another day in pain!
More importantly, don’t let your child with scoliosis become a ‘wait and see’ adult in pain.
Run, don’t walk, to get your Schroth physical therapy evaluation today to see how it can make a difference in your life! –Melissa