My story – spinal fusion and achievement against adversity
My name is Emily Hale, I’m 23 years old and the Founder and MD of Build & Breathe, an online fitness studio tailored to those with Scoliosis & Spinal Fusions. Rather than just looking at the physical side of living with Scoliosis, we look at the whole person including the potential emotional impact of diagnosis and surgery.
I was diagnosed at 14 years old – this can be a tricky time to spot Scoliosis because, as we go through puberty, we start to hide our bodies more rather than running around the house naked!
My curves were over 50 degrees, so I was popped straight on the waiting list for surgery. One year later and I was getting ready for my Fusion and I’m always asked how I felt in the build-up to my surgery. The honest answer is that I didn’t really think about it. It was such a big event that it was much easier to put it to the back of my mind – I remember it hit me when I was literally being put under with anaesthetic on the day of my op.
I’m now fused from T4-L5 — a pretty big fusion! Recovery was tricky, I remember feeling completely exhausted, and for someone who used to dance and figure skate 3-4 hours a day, it was a big shock to even struggle sitting up.
6 months post op, I was feeling stronger and decided to get back on the ice. The experience was absolutely heartbreaking as I could no longer extend my back in the way I needed to in order to skate – I felt so absolutely crushed and didn’t give myself any credit that my back muscles may have needed strengthening, instead I felt like a write off.
Physically, but also emotionally, I really struggled from that point, and was recommended Pilates to gain some strength. I am beyond thankful for this now! Pilates gave me space to see progressions, to feel like myself again, and to get the flavour of movement I was missing from dance. It became my escape.
As I built up my strength again, the confidence in my body soared and I’m so proud of everything I have achieved with my back – I’ve performed solo in a national dance competition, climbed mountains in Ethiopia, and even trained as a surf instructor – safe to say my Fusion wasn’t going to stop me! It became an addition to my body rather than a hindrance.
But this all took a U-Turn when I entered the world of work – desk jobs are not suited for healthy backs and I had moved out, away from my local Pilates studio. All of this combined, as well as a horribly stressful workplace, my back once again started to impact my day-to-day. This is when I decided to train as a Pilates instructor.
I was able to build up strength once again and manage the feeling of detachment and frustration with my body. What started as a journey to understand my body, turned into a movement to support others in the same boat as me, navigating their Scoliosis and Spinal Fusions. Every cloud has a silver lining, which can be difficult to see in the moment, and as difficult as living with Scoliosis can be, I’m so thankful it’s given me the opportunity to meet so many other inspirational people and provide support for something I’m truly passionate about.
Tips For Managing Scoliosis
I still struggle with pain, and stress exacerbates that. Movement has been medicine for me, making sure I get out for a walk on days I have a flare up, but also to keep strong when I’m feeling more myself.
Stress relief is a relatively recent discovery that has had more impact on my back than I ever could have imagined – sleeping well, making sure to nourish my body and eat enough, taking time away from responsibilities all contribute to mitigating back pain I used to experience.
I really notice it if I let one of these things slip so I try to be strict with myself. We’re only human and there are days I don’t look after myself as much as I should, but so does everyone! I also now know it’s not unsolvable and it will improve – this knowledge is a huge help on bad days.
The best advice I can give is to look at your Scoliosis as a holistic condition rather than a medical complication – it’s not just a bit of back pain, but something that eeks itself into many areas of your life. It’s important you approach solutions in that way too. Are there ways you could get moving to break up time at your desk ? Go get yourself an extra cup of tea? Could you take more holiday or reduce workload — could your boss be flexible with working times? These small changes make such a huge difference.
I’m over on Instagram at @buildbreathe where we give lots of advice on the physical and emotional side of living with Scoliosis/Spinal Fusion. We also have an interactive Scoliosis community over on Facebook which we’d love to see you in! You can find us here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/buildbreathemembers
Thank you Emily for sharing your story, I find everything you have achieved incredibly inspirational.
Lots of Love,