I was born with scoliosis and a left leg that was 1/4" shorter than my right leg. I was lucky that my scoliosis was an “S”-curve, which meant that my spine was somewhat balanced. I wore a 1/4" lift in my left shoe to even out my hips. From the age of 12 through the age of 18, I kept an annual appointment with one of Chicago’s top orthopedic surgeons. He took X-rays and measured any variance in the spinal curves. I watched with bated breath each year to find out if it had gotten worse since the year before, knowing that if it got bad enough, I would either be put in a body brace or have to undergo surgery to straighten my spine: neither sounded like an acceptable option. Luckily, I did not have to undergo either of those treatments. I was sure it was because I took his advice and joined the swim team in high school. He said that swimming was the best sport for my condition. He also prescribed that I lie on my left side for 30 min. each day, but that just wasn’t possible during my school years. Talk about determination, at my first swim practice, the coach told us that the warm-up was 80 lengths. I looked up at her and asked, “without stopping?” and she said yes. I had never swum more than one length in my whole life. I pushed away from the shallow end and proceeded to swim competitively for most of my high school years and then swam for exercise in college. I never suffered any back pain.
A few months before my 24th birthday, I had my first “back attack”. It was the morning of my sister’s wedding. I bent over to pick up a piece of lint on the floor and my back seized up into a spasm that was so bad that I could not breathe. I was terrified. I could hardly move. I didn’t know what to do. I was a bridesmaid in the wedding and I had to be there. Alas, like most of us who encounter back pain, I soon discovered painkillers. I called my doctor and with the help of a few pills, made it through the ceremony standing as straight as a flagpole. Smiling in the photos afterward was really tough.
Throughout my 20s and 30s I suffered a series of back spasms. The pain started on my lower left side and eventually seized the muscles around my rib cage. My doctor’s prescription amounted to bed rest until the muscles let go and muscle relaxants. I often laid there, unable to move much because of the pain, feeling my heart slow down from the muscle relaxants, wondering if they were such a good idea… The pain was so intense that I had to crawl to the bathroom and could hardly lift myself onto the toilet. These episodes typically lasted 3-5 days. I wondered if I would be in a wheelchair by 40.
Sometime in my mid 20s, I went to see a new doctor, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, and he said that he also had scoliosis and had just learned to live with the pain. But, he also thought that I might find some relief if I went through some intense physical therapy. For two months, I went to physical therapy twice/week. The only relief was the stretching machine, where my shoulders and hips were strapped in and my body literally pulled apart. That felt good, but the pain came right back once I stood up afterward. I laughed to myself when they gave me the ultrasound treatments, what a joke. The exercises that they gave me did not work, but I did them religiously. The biggest problem, they told me, was that I drove 45 miles to work each way and it was hurting my back to be bumped around in the car that long everyday. I remember leaving physical therapy feeling better and then getting in the car, driving to work, and then barely being able to pull myself out of the car when arriving at work. After getting out of my car, I could not stand up straight. The pain was awful. It often took several hours before I felt like I was able to stand up straight. And, then, as it suddenly arrived, the pain would all of a sudden disappear, sometimes for several months. But, it always came back.
In my early 30s, I started managing my company’s trade show program, traveling around the U.S. and then to Europe, managing booth installation and dismantling. On these trips, I often suffered from severe spasms and I could not call in sick. One day while I standing in front of a mirror in my hotel room, putting on makeup, I felt a pain develop in my back and watched as my left hip started raising itself, until it was effectively 2-3 in. higher than the right hip. The image I saw in the mirror was a deformed body. And, the pain was unbearable. I remember getting down on the floor and doing exercises, yelling at my back and telling it that I was not going to get up off the floor until it let go. Several minutes later, the pain eased enough to leave my hotel room and go to the convention floor. I felt extreme pain with every step. My hips were still way out of alignment, but I had to go on. Those days required standing most of the day. By the end of the day I was beside myself with pain and exhaustion. By this stage of my life, I had learned to live with the pain and I steered clear of muscle relaxants. I had resigned myself to a life with intermittent periods of intense pain.
I started mountain biking at age 34. Of course my doctor warned against it, warning that the jarring would damage my back. But, I found mountain biking to be an exhilarating sport, and over time, I noticed that my back spasms had begun to decrease. I was not sure if it was because of mountain biking and being in top physical condition. I did not do any special back exercises during that time and I never did stretching exercises.
Discovering Clinical Somatics
I learned about Clinical Somatics at the age of 39, quite unexpectedly. My husband and I were redoing our front and backyard landscape and one afternoon I noticed that the outside of my left thigh became numb. All of a sudden, I could not feel the fabric of my sweatpants against my skin. It was strange. I felt no pain, no tingling, no redness, no swelling, just surface numbness. I didn’t even feel any back pain. I called my doctor. She said that it’s not an emergency, as long as there is no loss of strength. She said if it’s not gone the following week to call for an appointment. I went in the next week and the nurse practitioner prescribed 100 mg of Norflex, to be taken every 12 hours for 15 days. She said if it’s not cleared up in 4-6 weeks, I should see an orthopedic surgeon that they recommend. She said that she saw no sign of neurological dysfunction.
Three days after this appointment, I walked into a Clinical Somatic Educator’s office, per a friend’s recommendation to see if she could help with the numbness. She looked at my posture and asked about my history. I told her about my scoliosis. What she then told me shocked me. She explained to me that scoliosis is not something you are born with, as the spine is not developed enough when you are born. Scoliosis develops as you take the tumbles in life and general traumas to your body that we all experience. Most likely there was some accident or fall I had taken before the age of five that caused my condition. She also told me that I did not have a shorter left leg, that my scoliosis had my entire trunk off balance and that I would not have to wear a lift in my shoe ever again. At first, I thought I was hearing the ravings of a quack. Then, she told me that she’d fix my scoliosis during the first one-hour session. I did not believe that it was possible. So, she took a black marker and marked the vertebrae so that I could take a before/after view of my back. The markers clearly illustrated my “S”-curve. She then systematically de-contracted all the small muscles that attach the vertebrae to the large muscle groups. To my surprise, I looked in the mirror and saw that my “S”-curve was no longer there. My spine was perfectly aligned. It was a miracle. And the process was entirely pain free. She suggested two variations of an exercise, called arch and flatten, that I was to do twice a day to lengthen the muscles in my back and abdomen. She told me that I’d need 4 sessions all together. These sessions were for:
- Green light reflex
- Trauma reflex
- Startle reflex
- Whiplash, tight jaw muscles, bunion pain
During every session, as the muscles would de-contract, I would feel a rush of heat energy flow through that part of my body, almost like that area was awakening from a deep sleep. I also noticed that by adjusting my spine, eliminating my rib cage tilt, and aligning my hips and legs that my clothes fit differently. I was able to wear one size smaller in jeans, as my real body shape was now somehow smaller. But the biggest difference to me was felt in the simple act of walking. I felt much more at ease in my body and it felt good to walk. In fact, I remember after one session, going down to the beach and just enjoying the sensation of walking. My hips and entire trunk were loose and it felt like I was walking on air. Also, within two weeks of my first session, the numbness in my leg disappeared. I even felt my overall mood change. I just felt happier and didn’t find myself worrying as much. I also found that I no longer woke up in the middle of the night to urinate. A good night’s sleep is such a blessing.
In the end, I had seven sessions with My Clinical Somatic Educator, five occurring over a period of four weeks. I also had two sessions about three months later. After that, I never had another appointment.
Besides the sessions, she prescribed a series of exercises for my particular weak areas and suggested several exercise tapes that I should follow to maintain my body. I found that there were particular exercises that I learned to do when I felt pain from overworking my body, such as the heavy-duty gardening work we were doing. If a pain developed in my lower left side of my back (my main trouble area), I would go into the house, lie down and within 20 seconds, I could free that muscle group, get up and be as good as new. To finally have control over my muscles was a dream come true. Today, six years after my first Clinical Somatics session, I have not one back spasm. YEA!
Another surprising thing happened during this period of my life. I had developed asthma (and was told by my new allergist that I had had it all my life) in 1997 soon after the death of a family member. I soon after found myself under the care of an allergist who prescribed 5 different medications, three of which were inhalants that I was took twice a day, while also monitoring/measuring my breathing. What a ritual!
Sometime after my Clinical Somatic sessions in 1999, one day I forgot to take my asthma medication and about one week afterward, it occurred to me what had happened. I also noticed that I wasn’t wheezing. I called my allergist for an appointment and after performing his usual battery of tests with a surprised look on his face he told me that he could detect no sign of asthma. Amazing. I don’t know if Clinical Somatics had anything to do with it, but the timeliness of it all was difficult to disregard.
I continued to do my exercises for many months after my Clinical Somatic sessions and found that the arch and flatten exercise even helped me with uphill mountain biking. I don’t know how a back exercise can affect the large muscles in your legs, but it did and I noticed a substantial increase in leg power. I also found that I didn’t become short of breath as easily. I had finally found a way to manage my back pain, maintain my body, and live a life with no fear of aging.