In my time as a physio on the Northern Beaches one of the most common concerns people bring up during their physical assessments is their ‘Scoliosis’. Scoliosis is one of those conditions that just sounds horrible isn’t it? I want to start by saying the likelihood of you ending up with a Quasimodo-like hump on your back due to the condition is AT LEAST a million to one. Scoliosis is simply derived from the Greek word for bent or curved and is used today to describe the lateral curve in the spine caused by the condition. Scoliosis commonly presents as one curve, called a C-curve, or two curves, called an S-curve and is classified as either structural or non-structural depending on whether or not there is an added rotation on the spine present with the curvature.
What are the signs of Scoliosis?
Unless you can turn your head 180 degrees to the back (in that case we have bigger problems than mere scoliosis) it might be hard to self-diagnose the possibility of scoliosis, but physiotherapists look for the following as indicators of scoliosis:
- Your head is not centred directly over your body
- One shoulder sits higher than the other
- One shoulder-blade sits higher or is more prominently sticking out
- You have unequal gaps on one side of your body between your arms and your trunk
- One hip bone is more prominent than the other
- You suffer pain around those areas that are imbalanced
What to do if you have been diagnosed with a scoliosis
Did you know that Usain Bolt was diagnosed with scoliosis early in his career? It’s certainly not a career ending condition by any stretch of the imagination. Depending on the position of the scoliosis in your spine, your physiotherapist will give you a number of exercises or stretches to regularly perform. There are also a number of things to avoid if you have been diagnosed.
- Getting sucked into buying lots of things to fix it
“When I first bought a tempurpedic pillow it made me realise I was basically sleeping on a pile of rocks up until that point.” Human being have been in our current form for at least 200,000 years. For how many of those years have we have nice soft mattresses and perfectly contoured pillows? There is no evidence to support the hype around sleeping paraphernalia. That being said, if you are having pain at night, it’s time to talk to your local musculoskeletal physio about it! Sleeping accoutrements aside, other nonsense things to avoid are posture braces, long term orthotics and consistently taping!
- Get strong
It is important to find yourself a local physiotherapist who is knowledgeable in a number of complementary treatment options. Recent studies have shown that clinical Pilates and Yoga can be an effective reliever of chronic discomfort along with other non-surgical options such as meditation, massage therapy and a well designed functional training program.
- Don’t sit for hours on end
You would be surprised at how much spine and neck pain is exacerbated simply by sitting and doing nothing. Unfortunately, whether you’re sitting at your work desk all day or on the couch watching cricket for hours on end, it’s likely that your neck and spine aren’t in their optimal positions. Get up at least every hour and stretch your body from side to side and have a walk around to avoid placing too much pressure on these areas constantly. If the pain is getting worse, walk on down to your Dee Why physio and pick my brain.
If you think you may have scoliosis, or you have been diagnosed with scoliosis but have been neglecting your exercises or you have never been given a full body assessment for your condition, it is important to visit a local physiotherapist with the skills and equipment to create an in depth program for you. Scoliosis is a relatively benign condition when treated correctly, but can lead to further complications in the future if it is neglected.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body, so it should be no surprise that sciatica is one of the most common issues seen to by musculoskeletal physiotherapists. Sciatica is the Latin word for “Pain down the back of the leg” but could really be described as more of a pain in the butt, hip, hamstring or lower back. The most common cause of pain in the sciatic nerve distribution (which I shall call sciatica for this article) is compression of the sciatic nerve. It’s a tricky one as sciatica can manifest itself in many ways, none of them painless. Because the sciatic nerve runs through so many major parts of the body, it is common to see sciatica misdiagnosed as other localised ailments, meaning a longer recovery time and no shortage of pain. Sciatica pain can cause a range of pain types from short and sharp, to infrequent and dull to debilitating.
Signs you may have sciatica
- The pain usually only affects one side of the body
- Pain radiates through the lower back to buttocks and down your leg
- The pain is worse when sitting or remaining still
- There is burning, tingling or weakness in the leg on the affected side
- Light exercise (such as walking) may ease the symtpoms
The good news is that sciatica is very treatable, and your local musculoskeletal physiotherapist is perfectly positioned to diagnose and treat your pain. While it’s relatively easy to diagnose the sciatica itself, usually there is an underlying cause from a different origin point. The following steps can help to keep some of the pain at bay, and rehabilitate the area so you can stay pain free longer.
- Sit less
Get off your butt! It might seem counterproductive when you have a sharp pain in your buttocks and leg to get up and walk around, but that’s exactly what you should be doing. Sitting for too long, such as at a desk or on the couch watching the cricket can cause your hip flexors to tighten up which is going to cause you even more pain. Set yourself a timer and stand up every 30-60 minutes, go for a walk and make a joke about Monday being a real pain in the butt.
- Take a dip in the pool
Apart from offering a place to escape the scorching heat, the pool is the perfect place to ditch sciatica. Once you’re feeling up to it, swimming slow and relaxed laps is a great way of easing pain, nerve spasms and relaxing the stiff muscles surrounding the painful area.
- Get a massage
Not just any massage, you need a physio skilled in the treatment of the pelvis and lumbar spine to give you a good working over. A titled musculoskeletal physiotherapist will be able to identify the root causes of your nerve pain and give you a massage that stimulates circulation through the affected area and helps to relax any muscle spasms.
- Strengthen your gluts
Strengthening the gluteal muscles (yes – the gluteus maximus is your big butt muscle!) is a great way to help prevent flare ups in the future. Many issues that affect the back and cause constant pain can be relieved by strengthening the hips and the core. Don’t go pumping out thousands of deadlifts, squats and crunches while you’re still in the primary phase of pain though, as that’s only going to hurt you more. Your local Dee Why physio will be able to conduct a full examination of your body and movements to give you the best core exercises for your body type and condition.
While you work with your physio to strengthen your core, increasing flexibility through your hips and lower back will be a key factor in keeping sciatica away. Muscular tension is a key trigger for sciatic pain, and having a daily routine of stretches will help build the resilience of your muscles, release the tension and prevent recurrence. Speak to your physio about the benefits of functional training on your body and the ways it can be used to strengthen the vulnerable areas of your body and protect them from everyday movements that cause pain. Clinical Pilates is also a proven avenue for painful conditions that affect the lower back and body, it’s certainly not just for middle aged mums and Instagram models!
WORD OF WARNING! Don’t sit on your sciatica pain! If left to its own devices, sciatica may go away on its own. Yet on the other hand, if left to it’s own devices the sheath of protective coating around the nerves (think of the plastic coating that is around all power cords) may whither away and die. It is much easier for us physios to fix a problem that has been there for a few weeks than a few months!
Get in contact with your local Northern Beaches physio and arrange an in depth treatment plan if you are experiencing sciatic pain, don’t let it restrict you from doing the things you love.
Lower back pain affects approximately 4 million Australians at any one time. If you suffer from chronic lower back pain, you understand how frustrating it can be to have to change your lifestyle while you recover. Unfortunately, lower back pain is more persistent and likely to continue unless treated effectively. Did you know that between 70 – 80% of people who suffer lower back pain will have a recurrence within a 12 month period? Back pain can affect your work, sports participation and most importantly, your sleep.