I’m talking scoliosis (sko-lee-O-sis) here, people. I’ve been blessed with a severe case of it, and I’ve recently started pondering: does it affect my running? Would I be a runner extraordinare and improve my times… if only my spine were straight? Probably just wishful thinking on my part. I did, however, find in my research that scoliosis may indeed lead to some negative effects on running performance. Luckily, I’m not one to fit in that category. My scoliosis doesn’t affect my running; it just makes me look a little funny in my sports bra.
What is Scoliosis? Simply put, it’s a curvature of the spine. It usually affects either the lower or upper back, but may even present itself in the neck. Most people have a natural curvature of about 10 degrees in their spine, but scoliosis patients have a more severe curve – anywhere from 20 degrees (mild) to 55 degrees (severe). Mine is borderline severe at 40 degrees in my lower lumbar area.
Most cases are idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause. It appears to be heredity, has its onset during puberty and growth spurts, and appears more often in females than males. Of my three female siblings, two of us have it. My oldest sister had it the worst with over 55 degrees, which called for surgery her sophomore year of high school. She now has a steel rod in her back (and can’t get epidurals during childbirth…total bummer, right?). I was lucky enough to stop growing at the cusp and just miss having to begin wearing a brace. Taller females with a late onset of menstruation seem to be at risk for developing it: I went from 5’4″ my freshmen year to 5’9″ by my senior year and didn’t start my period until I was 17, so I was pretty much doomed.
How Can It Affect My Running?
According to psychotherapist Li Feng Tian in the “Musculoskeletan Consumer Review,” “One can usually participate in any type of exercises with scoliosis.” Posture and muscle changes caused by the condition might restrict your range of motion or, in very rare instances, lung capacity can be reduced by the unnatural curve, resulting in reduced endurance. For those in the very severe minority (curvature at 70 degrees plus), substantial health issues may ensue, which definitely would negatively affect performance in long-distance running. In these cases, the ribs can press against the lungs and heart, which can cause difficulty breathing and increased infections of the lungs. The heart may also be limited in its ability to effectively pump blood.
Tian assures us that curvature of the spine won’t be worsened by running, but running hasn’t proven to help lessen scoliosis, either. Stretching, yoga, and improving flexibility are all great things, but they won’t magically reposition your spine. However, weight-bearing exercise – like running- helps keep bones strong, so that in itself is a positive.
Some runners with scoliosis complain of back pain and difficulty breathing because of the twist. Long runs result in lots of tension and uneven stress from surrounding spine muscles. For me, I’ve never (*knock on wood*) experienced much of this. The only negative I experience is poor posture and hating the way I look when I run. When I get tired near the end of the race, this is when I notice it affecting my form the most. For those who experience painful symptoms, investing in some physical therapy may be promising.
For me, I’m not really bothered by my scoliosis and I embrace it as yet another quirky trait that makes me, well, “me”. Some don’t like their curve to be seen, may have low self-image or become self-conscious about appearance. The one concern
I have is the long-term risk factor of developing osteoperosis from the scoliosis, which in turn weakens the bones and may result in more breaking and fracturing the older I get. To me, the risks of surgery, though, are scarier than the possibility of developing osteoperosis.
Do any of you out in Salty-land have scoliosis? Do you think it affects your running? What do you do about it?