Bad backs part 2

I talked about my dad’s bad back previously and I mentioned that I myself had had a bit of a back scare. This a bit of an overstatement but allow me to explain.

My dad has (I think, he’s never had it diagnosed formally and remembered any label) an exaggerated kyphotic curve to his spine. He’s had it for as long as anyone can remember and as he goes through his 70s it only gets worse. I grew up with the idea that my dad was a hunchback. It never seemed to bother him so it never really bothered me. Once a friend pointed it out to me and I realised it was quite pronounced but mainly it just highlighted her tactlessness. We were 10 but I was a very nice, kind child. You don’t say things like that about other people’s dads.

I was not a thin child and from the ages of 5-11 I did something that is terrible for all girls’ confidences and body images: I did ballet. One day when I was about 9 or 10 I remember looking at myself in the mirror in my little black leotard, and realising that my frame was not the same as the other girls. My back was bigger. Wider, rounded, bigger. I felt huge and I felt wrong. I tried not to look in the mirror after that. And I didn’t think about it again.

When I was about 13 or 14 I realised again that my back was round. When I looked at myself side on in the mirror it stuck out from the back of my arm. Other people’s didn’t do that. I know because I spent many a day looking and obsessing. The only person who looked similar was… my dad. My dad with the hunchback. I was terrified. I obsessed about it for months. I realised that if I did have a curved spine I would need it treated NOW or it would affect me forever with no chance of changing it.

My mum is not the best person at reassuring me. She’s vague at the best of times, full of stories of how I had my back checked when I was younger but then actually that may have been my sister.. but someone must have noticed if I had a bad back. You’re fine, your back is fine… probably. I just remained scared for years until I stopped growing and then thought if I’d had a problem it would have showed itself by now. No pain means I’m fine right?

So years pass and I find myself at 23 in my first yoga class with my first yoga teacher. She’s talking about her new chiropractor and I’m tuning out because she has a tendency to misdiagnose people with “forward head” and twisted spines and I’m really just there to do yoga. Then she turns to me and says: “You could really do with going”

What?! Why?

“Your back is curved. I’ve seen you, you have an exaggerated kyphotic curve.”

*thunder clap* dun dun DUN

I spent the rest of the class in a state of near panic. I have kyphosis! I’m going to end up in pain like my dad! I won’t be able to do yoga!

I went home and researched. And researched and researched. I found the following things out:

  • People with kyphosis usually have pain, uneven shoulders and shoulderblades, they have difficulty twisting or bending backwards and when they bend over there’s a visible bump.
I had none of these symptoms. In fact my spine was the most mobile in the entire class (including the teacher herself). The only pose I had trouble with was paschimottanasana which was due to a tight lower back. In this asana most people’s backs look rounded but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with their spines. People look different! They have different bones! This is not wrong!

I took myself to the doctor (not to the chiropractor) and I asked him to check my back. My spine is not curved.

And my rounded back? It’s a large rib cage, it sticks out in the front and at the back. All the better to take deep calming breaths when people misdiagnose me!

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