With the Olympics in full swing, it is easy to be captivated by the sheer beauty and majesty of the athletes as they use every portion of their skill and training to perform daily miracles. The athlete's body is a finely balanced machine, with each muscle playing a complex role in allowing that extra twist and turn, that last surge of power at the finish or that last soaring leap to the distance marker.
Every child that I see with scoliosis asks a variation on the same question - will I still be able to do sports or dance with my diagnosis? The anwer is an emphatic "Yes!" There is nothing about spinal curvature that disqualifies children from playing hte sports they love. I have patients with scoliosis practicing everything from gymnastics to Indian dance - and to my knowledge none of them has had to limit their activities.
I do caution kids that even small curves may cause imbalance in the back muscles and may lead to some back pain. I strongly recommend for all children, but especially for those with spine problems, that they take extra time to stretch both before and after sports and that they maintain their back and core strength as much as possible (see my post from January 2012). But even these aches and pains should allow kids to fully participate.
After spine surgery is a somewhat different concern - will I be able to return to sports? The simple answer to this question is also "yes," but with the understanding that the road back may take a while and may have some twists and turns. Although there are very few sports that are not safe to play after a spinal fusion (high contact sports like college football for instance), some may require flexibility that the fuse spine no longer has. Certainly the way the spine works after fusion may be changed enough that the young athlete may have to relearn a lot of her technical skills. But, having said that, I have patients after spinal fusion who have returned to soccer, basketball, dance, cheerleading and even gymnastics at a high level, and others who still participate in a wide variety of sports on a daily basis and make athletics or dance as a important part of their lives.
Which brings us back to the spectacle of the Olympics. Among the tremendous athletes lining up today is a Jamaican sprinter named Usain Bolt - arguably the greatest sprinter who ever lived who set the world aflame in Beijing four years ago by winning both the 100 and 200 meter races in world record time. Although in interviews he talks about back injuries when he younger, now he cites his core strength as a reason why the curve in his spine has not hampered his rise to greatness.
Watch Usain Bolt (and all the Olympians) race today with pride and wonder at the amazing things that the human body and spirit can do. And pass the message on to kids with scoliosis that they can be a part of this amazing endeavor as well.