Saturday, May 15, 2010

Basic Exercises for Scoliosis Patients

As a person with scoliosis, the primary goals of an exercise program for your spine should be to make the muscles of your back, shoulders, and upper back strong and flexible. (Quoted directly from this site) As your back muscles become stronger, your back will feel less tight and more flexible. In many cases, once your back muscles become stronger, your pain might decrease or at least become more manageable.

This site indeed has some good basic exercises for scoliosis patients, aiming to strengthen your back. They even have videos showing how the exercises are done.

Please bear in mind that you should only proceed if the exercises do not cause you discomfort or pain. And if you're worried, do talk to your doctors first. However, I've tried the exercises and found that they're light exercises, aimed to make strengthen your back and make your back feel good. They are not to exercises to 'correct' your curves, but they do make my spine feel more flexible and less taut/tight.

IMPORTANT TIPS for those just starting to exercise:

- Start slow. For instance, start with a 15 minute walk at moderate pace. Then slowly build up as you feel stronger. You could increase to 20 minutes at faster pace, then 30 minutes, and so on.
- When doing weights, start with light weights. I started off with just 1 kilo weights. Build up as you go, but never to the point of feeling pain on the spine.
- "Tingly" or "prickly" sensations around the back muscles when you first start your exercises is normal. But stabbing pain on the spine is NOT normal. Stop immediately if you feel any pain on the spine!

Lastly, I like what this site says about scoliosis and exercise:

"Scoliosis is not related to flexibility issues or lack of strength. Scoliosis does not act as a deterrent to normal physical activity. Children and teenagers with scoliosis can participate in sports and recreational activities. They can even perform normal exercises that help build muscle strength and endurance. They can even train to improve their cardiovascular conditioning like normal people."

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Importance of Strengthening Your Back Muscles

I have so much to share but there is always so little time in a day!

But I've got a piece of good news and new discovery to share with my fellow scoliosis friends. Alright, maybe this discovery is not so new for some of us out there, but it is to me :)

About two months back, I discovered I had some free time in hand while the son is at playschool. So I decided to join the gym and get some serious workouts done.

I've always been a big believer in exercising. As a teenager I didn't really like physical activities because I was teased in school for wearing a bulky body brace, and for being so clumsy and not well-coordinated enough. Things were emotionally hard back then, so I didn't participate in sports much. If I had a regret about scoliosis, that would be it. I let the teasing and my lack of confidence get in the way and I wasted precious years not using vital parts of my body.

It wasn't until I was in college that I started brisk-walking and swimming on a daily basis in an effort to lose weight. I didn't lose weight much, but I was in good shape and felt good about myself. I had my first surgery within months of finishing my degree, and as soon as I could walk, I got my Dad or my then-boyfriend (now my husband) to drive me to Kiara Park so that I could walk. At first I walked so slow that everyone stared and wondered what was the matter with me. And at first it took me nearly 30 minutes to complete one round around the park. But I kept walking, sweating in my singlet and post-surgery body braces, not caring about those stares and whispers. And to this day I am glad I ignored them all!

Six months later I was out of the braces and walking 5 to 7 rounds (I took the big and uphill routes too) every single day. I had lost 15 kilos since the surgery and feeling good about myself.

Throughout my postgraduate studies in Melbourne, walking was my major exercise. A couple of years later when I felt super-strong, I started buying aerobic and strengthening workout videos to do on rainy winter days. I hiked a lot too on weekends and holidays. Hence I maintained my weight until I got pregnant with my son four years after my first surgery.

During my pregnancy I gained 16 kilos but kept active. I tried to workout three times a week throughout the pregnancy. After giving birth, it got hard to stick to an exercise plan. I was working and we were moving house, then the implants got infected and I couldn't walk for half a year. I started walking again when my son was 18 months old. That was when I decided to restart a workout schedule.

I walked at the park 5 days a week, 30 minutes each time. But it wasn't sufficient. My spine, and back muscles still didn't feel strong enough.

So now I've joined the gym. And to make full use of the gym, and to build strength on my back I have a personal trainer to train me twice a week. So every week while my son is at school (he goes to playschool three times a week), I'd be at the gym. Aside from that, I make sure I work out on my own home equipment three times a week. In total, I try to work out 6 days a week, about an hour to 2.5 hours each time.

And lo and behold, I am amazed at the strength that exercise can give us!

By us, I specifically mean us with scoliosis condition.

For the first time in 8 years, I am praying normally (standing up, with abilities to bend and prostrate as I wish). I can lift groceries, I can even lift my son (although I don't make a habit of it), I can bend down to look for things under the bed.. and so much more. My back muscles feel strong and capable of living a very-nearly-normal life. Praise God.

So what is my point here??

The point that I am trying to make is.. don't give up!

When you have scoliosis, some days the pain can drag you down. Some days it doesn't seem as if you will ever be normal or live normally. Some days there are just so many things that you cannot do.

Fight it.

Fight the pain. Exercise.

Go ahead, try it :)

Start with walking. Just walk. Go to the park and walk. Move your arms in silly ways that make you feel good and ignore those evil-starers. And don't stop for 30 minutes.

Stretch when you're done with your walking. Stretch your legs, your arms, your back. Be careful, but stretch. And feel good about your achievement. Because this will be the start of great benefits.

There are specific exercises to do to help strengthen the back muscles. I'm not talking about strengthening the spine or exercising your curves. What I mean is, if you concentrate on strengthening your back muscles (those muscles surrounding your back area), you can minimise discomfort and pain, and you'll also find yourself feeling stronger and better about yourself.

If you're unsure and need help, do talk to your doctors and physiotherapists. Ask them about suitable exercises. If you can find it, find a trainer with experience in aiding scoliosis patients.

In the following weeks I'll take some pictures and talk about the back exercises that I do, for the sole purpose of sharing personal experience and giving an idea of the benefits exercise can give scoliosis patients.

Is there anybody out there who have inspiring stories of fitness or strength-related discoveries to share? We still have much to learn about how exercise can benefit our scoliosis condition!