I first became aware of my condition when I was 15 years old.
My mother was constantly pointing out a strange hump on one side of my back, and I was constantly dismissing it. (I have always been overweight, so I assumed it was fat.)
She continued persisting until I decided to go to the doctors and ask for an x-ray. Just a few days later I received my results – scoliosis.
I had no idea what it meant, nor was I aware how it would impact my life in the years to come.
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is “an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine”. In simple terms: instead of your spine being straight, it’s bent or curved. The severity can vary person to person, and it’s estimated that between one and four per cent of the population have it.
There are no specific known causes for scoliosis, meaning that it’s possible for anyone to have the condition. There are different types of scoliosis, although the most common is Adolescent Idiopathic scoliosis – occurring during adolescence and being associated with growth.
I wasn’t really provided with much information from my GP at the time, so I carried on with life. I had occasional back pain, but nothing I thought was out of the ordinary. In the following years, I started having issues. I noticed that sitting down in class for long periods of time would make my back feel extremely stiff and sore.
Believing it was normal to feel this way, I ignored the pain. I had convinced myself that I was overreacting. This went on, and weeks turned into months without improvement.
After years of pain, I decided to see a few specialists. They did not give me much guidance as my curve was not rapidly progressing, and I was beyond the age where remedies such as bracing would be effective. I was told to “find what works best for you, don’t push yourself and take pain medication when you really need it". I felt frustrated and defeated.
Just before finishing year 12, I started a position as a checkout cashier at Woolworths. I was eager to make a good impression so I took every shift that I was offered, and worked up to 30 hours a week.
After most shifts, I would come home and lie in bed. Standing and lifting for such long periods of time was taking its toll. I often cried myself to sleep, overcome with feels of anger and depression. I hated the fact that something so simple was tearing me down.
One day at work I reached breaking point. I broke down in tears because the pain had become too unbearable for me to continue. Fortunately, my bosses were very supportive and catered for my disability as much as they could. I cut down work to 10 hours a week. It was a particularly low-point of my life.
The people around me didn’t quite understand the severity of the pain I was dealing with, so they assumed that my aim was to avoid work. I was dealing with inner battles. I thought to myself “Should I just work more, and suck up the pain?”, “Am I just too sensitive?”, and one of my biggest thoughts at that point was that I was a complete failure.
For the most part, scoliosis is an invisible condition. Unless you know the signs to look for, you would not suspect a person has it or know about the condition at all. The problem in Australia is that a lot of us are unaware; there is a complete lack of education about what scoliosis is and how it changes the lives it touches.
This condition affects my quality of life on a daily basis. It has limited my employment prospects, I have cancelled plans on many occasions due to pain which has affected my social life, it is a financial burden, and ultimately – it has made me fearful of what my future will be like.
My experience has informed the belief that scoliosis school screening should be made mandatory as early detection has been shown to increase the effectiveness of treatment. It would incur only a small cost to train a staff member at each school to be able to carry out the basic "Forward Bend" test.
Currently, there is nothing in place that will educate young people about the signs of scoliosis. This is troublesome because if the condition goes undetected, early treatments such as back bracing can be deemed ineffective. Once a young person reaches approximately 16 years of age, their spine is often judged to have matured too much for bracing.
Scoliosis needs to be targeted early to ensure that young people with it have the chance to get proper treatment as soon as possible to ensure that it does not severely alter their quality of life.
Early detection would have helped me, so I want it to be accessible to everyone in the future.
I hope you all will share and sign the petition I have created.