At a Kitchener restaurant, Kelsey Morrison reaches down to grab a wine craft to pour me the 8oz of Cabernet Sauvignon that I asked for. As she turns her back to the bar, her hair swings over her left shoulder revealing a deep scar, trailing down the length of her spine.
I asked Kelsey about her scar and she explained to me that she had a spine condition that was a rare type of scoliosis.
Scoliosis is something that can affect anyone, but in most cases it is hereditary. Like Kelsey’s, it can become more severe if the individual doesn’t seek proper treatment, or doesn’t regularly strengthen the muscles.
“It can be caused just by bad genetics, but you can also develop it. My dad was diagnosed when he was 18 years old, because it develops a lot later in men than females,” says Kelsey about inheriting the condition. “Mine was genetic, mine happened at birth, mine was a deformity of the vertebrae. It was simply just formed differently.”
According to KidsHealth, three out of 100 people have some form of scoliosis, but for most it is not much of a problem. Depending on its severity the person may use a brace, or get an operation to treat it. Usual factors for surgery are the person’s age, how much they have likely still to grow, the degree of their curve and the type of scoliosis.
Once Kelsey found out about her condition she was immediately pressured by numerous spine specialists to consider surgery.
“My dad noticed that when I was a baby that my chest didn’t look align, but I wasn’t diagnosed until years later,” says Morrison.
She told me that she could recall the day perfectly. She was with her family on vacation, playing at the beach. Always an active child, Kelsey had never restricted herself physically or athletically based on her back condition. Feeling the heat of the sun, she went to her mom to get sunscreen put on her back. As her mother started rubbing the lotion down her spine, she noticed something unusual. A couple seconds later, Kelsey was surrounded by her family as everyone tried to feel the swerve in her back. Kelsey’s life became a constant blur of x-rays, doctor appointments and visits to a specialist for check-ups on her spine. Kelsey was seven.
“My first surgery was in Grade 2. They did a fusion of my three vertebrae’s thinking that it would just kind of correct itself. Instead of having three separate, they fused it with the two beside it. Hoping for my back to straighten out,” explains Kelsey, readjusting her posture as she talks.
Fusing the vertebrae together had the opposite effect. Instead of straightening out her spine, her back overcompensated by curving in the opposite direction.
Kelsey turns around to show me the deviation in her spine, where a noticeable S is displayed between her shoulders.
This result meant Kelsey had to consider a second surgery. If she were to keep her spine in the same condition, her organs would start to move inward and the angle would get worse.
“I have a 26-degree curve in my back. They wanted to go in and lock the top and bottom of my back keeping it straight,” says Morrison. “There was a 50 to 50 chance that depending on which way they went in, I could become paralyzed from the waist down.”
At thirteen, without any other alternative for effective treatment, Kelsey received her second surgery. Two rods were put in place to cement her spine from moving further.
Kelsey still has a noticeable stiffness to her upper body, that and her scar being the only remnants of the disease.
I’m almost finished my wine at this point and I haven’t notice any signs of any noticeable physical limitations. She has been in the restaurant industry since she was 15.
“One thing that I was surprised about was that they [doctor] didn’t recommend physiotherapy. I went for a massage and there was a knot in every muscle in my body,” Kelsey says of her exercise regiment. “I’m not allowed to do yoga because of the turning or twisting. I can’t do back squats; I can’t do squats with weights because I can’t put any pressure on the top of my back.”
Still attending the University of Waterloo to earn an undergraduate degree in Therapeutic Recreation, she is well aware of the benefits of staying active when living with such a painful spinal condition.
Tyler Cave, a recent graduate from University of Waterloo’s Kinesiology program strongly supports physical therapy for rehabilitation, perfect for Kelsey’s case.
“Physical therapy is very important when it comes to rehabilitation of patients with scoliosis. It is widely accepted that the spinal muscles are known as stability muscles, and scoliosis can cause an imbalance between the muscles on either side of the spine,” says Cave. “Therapy can help balance these muscles more appropriate which can improve posture, alleviate pain and increase range of motion.”
There are no cures for scoliosis. Depending on the case, physicians may suggest certain treatments as a solution.
Dr. Chris MacLean, a chiropractor at Etobicoke Spinal Health and Wellness Centre was surprised to hear about Kelsey not receiving any recommendation to pursue physical therapy.
“It’s a very aggressive program of care to do it,” says Dr. MacLean of physical therapy. There are things that can be done that can lesson the likelihood of it progressing.”
The option of physical therapy is not curative, but more of a temporary method to help lessen the symptoms of scoliosis.
The x-ray shows Kelsey’s 26 degree curve in her spine.