Like many who suffer from scoliosis, I have lived with chronic pain for most of my life. And I have grown so used to it that when I was in labor I did not feel the pain unbearable.
My spine being out of alignment has contributed to my fascia, muscle, nerve, and joint pain.
Many doctors treating scoliosis discount a patient’s complaint of pain. There is this erroneous belief that scoliosis does not cause pain. Sometimes it does and other times it does not.
Spinal misalignments can pinch, squash, tighten and irritate the blood vessels and nerves. This affects circulation and the smooth transmission of nerve impulses. Which in turn affects the elasticity of the myofascial tissues causing adhesions or painful scar tissue. Furthermore, faulty musculoskeletal positioning also strains the joints, which over time become inflamed and worn out.
However, not all who suffer from scoliosis suffer from pain. And it does not depend on the severity of the curves. Those with mild curves may experience excruciating pain while those with severe cures experience no pain. Whether or not scoliosis leads to pain depends not just on the asymmetry but also on other factors namely the level of stress and how supportive your environment is.
Scoliosis can cause pain but not always in your back. Sometimes it’s your neck, or head, or legs, or your hands. Additionally, cervicogenic headaches and migraines are also very common with people who have scoliosis. For some time, I too suffered from debilitating migraines, it would come on with vengeance and all I could do was put a hot-water bag and hope for it to subside.
Trauma, Scoliosis and Pain
Trying to remember the trajectory of my scoliosis progression. I remember being in severe pain during the age of 12-14 – a period of severe emotional/sexual/ physical trauma, And there was no one to share or support me.
Noted pain expert, Dr. John Sarno believes that back pain is caused by the subconscious mind in an effort to keep you from thinking about or dealing with unpleasant or painful thoughts and feelings. It accomplishes this by depriving oxygen to the nerves and tissues surrounding the spine. In scoliosis, our bodies go one step further and permanently twist to protect us from danger. I know I was in a state of constant hypervigilance, expecting to be attacked at any time.
Since my late teens after the growth phase. the pain was more of a niggling nuisance than an unbearable burden. Of course, it does get more intense after a stressful day at work or from carrying heavy loads.
The current view now is most pain is psychosomatic. Well, that cannot be said about scoliosis because spinal misalignment not just causes structural damage but can also affect one’s organs. Scoliosis is more than a spine curved sideways, it affects so many aspects of our health and emotional wellbeing. The pain is real and it is not all in your head.
The unfortunate part is both emotional pain and physical pain activate the same brain regions – the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex. So the more depressed you are about your scoliosis, the more pain you may feel. Our perception of our condition and situation affects our pain level.
Nonetheless, chronic pain rewires the nervous system to create MORE PAIN.
Chronic pain via Learned Nerve Pathways
Chronic pain sensitization is an interesting form of brain plasticity. The body creates chronic pain via learned nerve pathways in the brain and nervous system in response to a perception of danger which can be emotional or physical. Thus, the brain becomes wired to feel it is in danger.
Moreover, all the systems become more sensitive the longer you have pain. Anything that changes your brain’s evaluation of danger will affect your level of pain.
Chronic pain behaves very differently from acute pain because it alters our nervous systems. The changes to the nervous systems mean that the pain will not easily be switched off by pain killers alone. Also, the body gets used to painkillers so they are less effective over time.
Check out the video below to learn how it works.
Chronic Pain and Sensitisation
Treatment of Scoliosis Pain
As long as you have scoliosis you may experience some degree of pain. Of course, there are those few lucky ones who live pain-free lives. Like any chronic condition, those in pain may search tirelessly for anything to improve their quality of life.
Drugs like opioids are not just addictive, they have some serious side effects in the long term. Finding safer and alternative natural remedies is the best solution. Also, remember pain management and stress management go hand in hand.
Below is a compilation of things that can help ease your suffering based on my personal experiences and of other scoliosis sufferers.
1) Pain Relief ( Topical Applications)
The first step is to find ways to alleviate your pain on a physical level. There are many topical medications that provide relief.
1) Heat / Sauna – Any type of heat helps loosens tight muscles. My first go-to is a hot-water bag.
2) Tiger balm
3) Arnica cream or gel
4) CBD oil – CBD therapeutically interacts with your endocannabinoid system, to stabilize and relax the mind-body into a place of homeostasis.
5) Belladonna Heat Plasters
6) Frankincense and myrrh lotion
7) Diclofenac Sodium Topical Gel
9) Magnesium balm. I swear by Epsom Salt ( Magnesium Sulphate).
10) Emu oil
11) Essential oils like Eucalyptus oil and Lemongrass oil helps to reduce pain and inflammation. Besides, their aromatic scent triggers the relaxation response, which calms the mind. Do remember, essential oils must be diluted with a carrier oil before application.
2) Oral Pain Relief
Opioids can help chronic pain but they have serious side effects and are addictive. A better alternative is opting for natural remedies which are better in the long term.
1) Turmeric – Helps both brain and body. Always add black pepper to improves its effectiveness. I liberally use turmeric in food.
2) Ginger – It is a cheap and effective anti-inflammatory remedy. Have it as tea, or use it in your cooking. Or make a fermented-ginger drink.
3) Boron – reduces inflammation, helps bone growth
4) Wild Lettuce – acts on the central nervous system, produces pain-relieving and sedative effects.
5) Devil’s claw – It reduces inflammation, relieves arthritis pain, headache, and low back pain.
6) Boswellia – It is an effective anti-inflammatory, it can be an effective painkiller and may prevent the loss of cartilage.
7) Feverfew– It is s excellent for inflammation and pain.
8) Collagen and gelatin – Both are good for joints and the spine. A friend with scoliosis has found taking Ancestral Supplements Bovine Tracheal Cartilage has helped her pain.
9} Ashwagandha – Acts as a pain reliever, preventing pain signals from traveling to the central nervous system. It also has anti-inflammatory and stress-relieving properties.
Addictive Oral Pain Relief
Below are substances that offer pain relief but can be addictive. So exercise caution and good sense when taking them.
1) Gin-Soaked Raisins – This drunken raisins combination of gin and raisins is supposed to be a powerful pain remedy particularly for those suffering from arthritis.
2) Poppy Seed Tea – Relieves pain, helps sleep, reduces anxiety, and as an alternative to more harmful opioids. For this, you will need unwashed poppy seeds.
3) Kratom – Kratom comes in three different strains, which all are effective relievers for chronic pain. Kratom also has many mood-enhancing effects.
4) Marijuana – The Indica variety is supposed to be more suitable for inflammation.
Remember, natural remedies take time to work, unlike fast-acting pharmaceutical preparations. But once their effect begins working, your body and mind will feel better without any toxic side effects.
3) Physical Therapies
Except for the occasional massage I have not tried any of the modalities. Nonetheless, many have gotten relief from pain, stress, and inflammation via physical therapy.
4) Dry- Needling
8) CranioSacral Therapy
Since these require close physical touch, it is very important that you feel safe and comfortable with the therapist or else they may not work. Our body reflexively goes into protective mode and tightens when we feel danger. Pay attention to how you feel about the setting and the person giving the therapy.
4) Therapeutic Physical Aids
1) Full back massagers
2) Massage guns or percussion massagers or vibration therapy guns like Thera gun.
3) Acupressure mats
4) Fascia blaster/ Foam Rollers
5) Therapeutic Magnets
6) Copper Magnetic Bracelet
7) Spinal Cord Stimulation – This has shown good long-term relief in 50 to 80% of patients suffering from chronic pain. This has to be done by a trained practitioner.
5) Physical Exercise
A lot of research has indicated that if you convince the mind there is no pain, you will begin to experience less pain. Slowly exercise the painful part of your body several times every day. This helps retrain the brain into thinking this actually doesn’t hurt. Small steps lead to big changes.
1) Crawling – It is a primal movement that exercises our entire body and also our core. Crawling activates our vagus nerve which helps calm our nervous system.
2) Full / Half Squat – Gives you a full-body workout, blending flexibility, stability, and functional strength for your upper and lower body.
3) Horse-Stance – It not only works on your physical body it also has a profound effect on your mental state – developing internal energy and stabilizing the mind.
4) Backward Walking – When walking backward, the spine naturally straightens, this can be used to improve poor posture. Moreover, the brain has to really concentrate thus shifting focus from your pain.
5) Deep breathing – Practise simple breathing techniques to calm your mind and relax your body.
6) Swinging – Just swinging or rocking can calm the mind and improve your vestibular function. which controls balance, coordination, eye movement, reflexes, fine motor skills, and even emotional self-regulation.
Other gentle options include yoga, pilates, tai chi, and swimming.
Some exercise is a must to slowly de-activate the pain loop of the mind-body. Motion is lotion as the common saying goes.
5) Psychological Brain Retraining
Recent studies have proved that people can train their brains to process pain differently and reduce the amount of pain that they feel. It means altering the brain’s predictive coding mechanisms. Wherein one retrains the sensitized pain pathways to create new pain-free pathways.
Remember, your thoughts and feelings, social interactions, and life’s day-to-day events can powerfully influence your pain. The trick is not to avoid all life’s challenges but to retrain your system to cope with them.
Tune into your emotions, express and release them
1) Identify DIMS and SIMS – DIMS stands for Dangers In Me (negative) and SIMS is Safety In Me (positive). According to pain experts, Lorimer Moseley and David Butler ‘You will have pain when your brain concludes that there is more credible evidence of danger in me. Identify and incorporate as many SIMS as you can. Get rid of that toxic friend who is a real pain in the neck. Learn to maintain boundaries and learn to say ‘No. Stop being a people pleaser, it only leads to repressed resentment.
2) Writing /journaling – This is one of the best methods of getting rid of some of the underlying emotional trauma that may be stored in your unconscious.
3) EFT- tapping – EFT works as a bridge connecting the mind and body.
3) Grow That Loving Feeling – Studies have shown that being in love could affect the perception of pain, You don’t need to fall in love just watching cute pictures/videos of babies, dogs, or cats could trigger oxytocin release which could help reduce pain.
4) Cry, Scream, Shout – Can help release those pent-up emotions and release endorphins, a natural pain killer. A word of caution, as far as possible do it alone or with someone who is not your subordinate, particularly not in front of your kids.
Losen Up – Laugh, have fun, just chill
1) Watch funny movies: According to Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, “10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain–free sleep,”
2) Find a hobby, go dancing, or join a group that does things that you enjoy. Sometimes, just shifting focus and leaning into positive sensations, rewires your brain and deactivates pain. Being in a flow state shifts your focus from pain to pleasure. It also releases feel-good hormones thus counteracting the stress hormones.
3) Listen to Relaxing Music: Music can have a profound effect on both emotions and the body. I listen to sound healing music particularly theta brain waves which are very effective in changing my mindset from stress to calm.
6) Check Your Diet
The foods you eat (and don’t) can determine how well your body fights painful inflammation. However, each one is different and you will have to play your own detective and eliminate foods that could be causing flare-ups.
Is it gluten, dairy, trans fats, soy, sugars, coffee, alcohol, nuts, etc, that is the culprit? Keep a log for at least a month and see how you feel when you eat these foods.
Include more anti-inflammatory foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, found in olive oil, flaxseed oil, and fatty fish (like salmon, sardines, and mackerel). Eat more green leafy veggies, tomatoes, berries, avocados, peppers, mushrooms, grapes, and dark chocolate.
Finding Your Own Solutions – Be In Control
Pain need not keep you hostage. Don’t succumb to feeling hopeless and helpless. Read, listen and experiment. Find your own solutions to ease your pain, Being pain-free is one big step in improving scoliosis. Because the body heals much faster when not in pain.
Personally, focussing and trying to find ways to manage my scoliosis has helped me keep despair and depression at bay. Feeling one is in control is a very powerful feeling.
Being hopeful and believing that you can change things goes a long way in changing the mind-body dynamic, The placebo effect can be especially strong where pain is concerned.
Remember, every one a different. Find out what works for you and listen to your body. If something does not work, try something else. Keep trying, keep testing. You don’t need to live in chronic debilitating pain. Take those small steps to reduce pain and feel better.
Some Great Youtube Videos on Pain
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Kindly consult with your doctor or healthcare professional before doing anything contained in this content.
Image Source: Pexels
Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection – Dr. John E. Sarno