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  1. #1
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    Feb. 9, 2009
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    Default eventing with scoliosis/spinal fusion surgery

    I have been thinking lately about getting surgery for my mild scoliosis. It causes me to sit unevenly in the saddle, and i have to jump with my stirrups about 2 holes different in length. I was wondering if there were any other eventers out there with scoliosis who have dealt with this issue and any who have had surgery for it and could tell me about there experiances. I believe there have been some threads about this in the past, but I wanted to hear specifically from eventers, particularly UL eventers or those with serious UL aspirations (although input from all levels would be greatly appreciated!
    thanks in advance



  2. #2
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    Feb. 25, 2005
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    I have scoliosis - not a mild case, but a very severe one. You can see the curvature of my spine - it is quite visible. I am also visibly crooked when I stand or sit, and one leg is a couple of inches shorter than the other, which exacerbates the problem. I wore a back brace that extended from the base of my skull to the end of my tailbone from the age of about 7, until I stopped growing at about 17. I did not have surgery because it was deemed by my parents to be too dangerous (it was still somewhat experimental) at the time.

    Today, I have significant back pain and on a GOOD day, I can manage, if I work hard at it, to tie my shoes. That said, I ride 2 horses almost every day and have done for a long while. I have not chosen to have the surgery, in part because I am used to living this way, and in part because surgery of any type involving your spine is a risk. I would rather live this way, than find that I am unable to walk at all due to an error on the table. That's my personal choice and a lot of people would probably make a different decision - because surgery is fairly common these days - but honestly I wouldn't recommend it if you have only a minor problem. I go to one of the top neurosurgeons in the country and he wouldn't do surgery for a minor problem - you would have to be in a pretty bad way (numbness in the legs, etc.) before he would consider doing this for you.

    p.s. I don't adjust my stirrups to ride. You eventually learn to step into the stirrup and adjust your balance, and having some awareness of your weakness and the discipline to correct it while riding will help while you are walking, sitting, etc. It is tough going at first, but it does pay off.
    Treat Jockey for Spellbound and Smidgeon



  3. #3
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    Jan. 19, 2005
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    I have very mild scoliosis. No difference in my stirrup length...forced my self to stay even. Not significant enough to even consider the surgery. But I do struggle with straightness...especially in dressage. I basically need to be reminded in a lesson when I am straight and then recreate that feeling on my own....probably not much difference from anyone else.

    I will say that regular good chiro work has helped....significantly more than I expected....that and keeping my core stronger. I have a lot more issues if I'm not strong. But again....my case is very mild.....and only thing keeping me from considering going beyond the ** level is lack of time in the saddle to keep my riding sharp enough. With my work schedule...a ** will be enough of a reach.
    ** The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits. -- Albert Einstein **



  4. #4
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    May. 8, 2007
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    I don't have scoliosis myself, but I am an eventer and a surgeon who does lots of spine (and scoli) cases.

    I would echo what you heard above. Scoli surgery is highly invasive, with a long recovery period. It is not your "average" spine fusion. The complication rate is higher, the chance of permanent neurologic injury is higher, and the recovery time is much longer. In addition, your future flexibility/mobility is affected to a much larger extent than a standard spine fusion patient who has 1-3 levels fused.

    That said I have no idea how severe your situation is, and there certainly are patients for whom I would strongly recommend surgery. These are usually those with progressive curvature worsening over time, neurologic deficits, unmanageable pain, etc.

    My advice would be to go see SEVERAL spine surgeons who do a lot of scoliosis (often called "deformity.") Get several opinions and weigh them carefully. Go to at least one surgeon in academic practice. Make sure you find people who do this particular type of surgery frequently, as there are those who dabble in it and I would not recommend that. And be prepared that if you do undergo this type of surgery you will be off the horses for 3 months minimum, and possibly not competing a significant rate/level for a year.



  5. #5
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    Nov. 1, 2005
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    Another one with scoliosis here. I had a spinal fusion when I was 16 when the brace I wore did not halt, much less correct, my increasing curvature (Speedy I feel your pain, I cried myself to sleep alot when I was a teen...).

    I am so glad I got the surgery. My curvature has never progressed in the 16 years since, although I was not fully straightened. I still struggle with staying even in the saddle and it's harder for me to track left than right (this manifests in my horses also... we balance each other fairly well when the horse's stronger side is to the right, but if the horse is also weak to the left- eek!! ).

    I just last night, for the first time in a year (just had a baby three months ago...) did some work without stirrups and it really reminded me how much better I ride when I'm FORCED to balance correctly instead of relying on the stirrups. So, I will be making sure I do some non-stirrup work every time I ride from now on.

    Good luck. I never had any complications from my surgery, so I would do it again every time.
    ~Living the life I imagined~



  6. #6
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    Dec. 27, 2001
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    I have mild to moderate scoliosis -- my ortho when I was a teen told me I was one degree shy of his cutoff for surgery (but that was a long time ago...). I wore a brace a bit smaller than Speedy's from 13-18 or so and I don't think you can see my curvature as she describes.

    I am about a half an inch off from side to side and, like bornfree, have always struggled with crookedness (and with feeling straight when I am in fact crooked). My horses tend to be one-sided in the same way, so I am assuming that's me and not then.

    I used to have lower back pain issues when riding but I have been doing Pilates for about 6 years now and I am WAY straighter, WAY stronger, and never have back pain any more. I do a semi-private pilates because at first I needed a lot of hands-on help to be straight (I would occasionally get so crooked I'd fall off the apparatus if not spotted), and now, because my pilates partner (a dressage rider) and I are pretty advanced, and wouldn't get enough of a workout in a group session at the studio.

    So like bornfree, I've been able to compensate with a seriously strong (at least compared to the rest of me, which is not seriously anything) core. I certainly don't think my scoliosis would ever limit my eventing -- that'll be my bravery and the soundness or scope of my horses (I am pretty sure my bravery would run out before the scope of at least my big horse) -- I have run a few prelims and don't seriously imagine intermediate is in my future...

    Certainly before you consider surgery I'd put some real time (and it can take a long time) into making your core as strong as you can, if you haven't already, and then see where you are...
    The big man -- no longer an only child

    His new little brother



  7. #7
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    I don't have scoliosis, but a friend in high school did. Hers was very bad and she had surgery to put a rod in her back (that's how she described it to me). The result was a very straight back, splayed ribs (she lost the typical female 'hourglass' shape) and loss of flexibility. She did ride horses, though she did dressage. After the surgery, she did not have trouble with riding, but she did not jump and from what I remember, it would not have been a problem to jump. Of course, she also had a straight back without thinking about it and always looked good in the saddle....



  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by asterix View Post
    have always struggled with crookedness (and with feeling straight when I am in fact crooked). My horses tend to be one-sided in the same way, so I am assuming that's me and not then.

    I used to have lower back pain issues when riding but I have been doing Pilates for about 6 years now and I am WAY straighter, WAY stronger, and never have back pain any more. I do a semi-private pilates because at first I needed a lot of hands-on help to be straight (I would occasionally get so crooked I'd fall off the apparatus if not spotted), and now, because my pilates partner (a dressage rider) and I are pretty advanced, and wouldn't get enough of a workout in a group session at the studio.
    I also have to continually be told when I'm "straight" and my mare has a very strong tendency to travel with her haunches in. I also always assume this is due to my crookedness and not hers.

    and, I started Pilates a year or two ago as well, and found it VERY hard at first. As my core got stronger it got a lot easier, and I think it definitely helped improve my balance on my horse. I also kept up with the Pilates throughout my pregnancy, even if my riding tapered off and then stopped for awhile. I mentioned I did some no-stirrup work last night for the first time in a year, and I found it much easier than I had been expecting. I always had fought the feeling that I was going to slide right off my horse when working without stirrups, but last night I felt very secure and centered, surprisingly so after having not done it in so long and really only having gotten back to serious riding in the las month or two (because of the baby, not my back)
    ~Living the life I imagined~



  9. #9
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    I really want to do pilates....now after this thread, even more so....haven't been able to make the time though. Yoga is another thing that would probably also help. I do a few positions every night.

    Apparently what helped save me from wearing a brace as a child (they initially thought I would need one) was modeling (about the only thing good about modeling) and my mother.....basically a pro level ballet dancer. So was basically screamed at to have correct posture, flexibility and balance ALL the time.

    Hope that you find a solution that works for you but at least you know there are several people out there with similar issues.
    ** The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits. -- Albert Einstein **



  10. #10
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    Feb. 25, 2005
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    I wanted to mention - pilates has also made a big difference for me. The other thing that has helped tremendously is swimming. If you can get to a pool, I highly recommend it. I think that between pilates and swimming, swimming does more for me - but that may just be the fact that I happen to enjoy it more and so do it more often/consistently, I'm not sure.
    Treat Jockey for Spellbound and Smidgeon



  11. #11
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    Feb. 9, 2009
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    thanks very much everyone... i am going to go to my chiro as soon as i get home, and try and start up doing pilates again... i won't be able to take classes though, do you think i will still be able to get some benenfit out of using a video or a book for instruction? i danced when i was younger as well and i think that has helped.. also i should probably go for another x ray soon, i think the last one i had was 3 years ago (i am 18 now), my curve was somewhere around 20 degrees i think?
    i feel a bit better hearing that other people experiance some of the same things i do! for instance, i have noticed that some horses (particularly green horses) don't like to pick up the right lead for me or leg yield off my right leg.. which is frustrating because i know its not there fault but i still need to find some way to correct it... until recently i also carried my hand rather uneven, but riding a lot has helped that.. from your stories i am also realizing how lucky i am that i do not suffer from any pain!
    so eventually you can become used to riding with even stirrups? i ride with my dressage stirrups even, but my jumping length stirrups are slightly uneven.. i used to try to ride with them even but it was SO FRUSTRATING because it felt so uneven and like i was going to fall off one side.. plus it would make my left leg exhausted from the extra pressure.. i would just get so angry about it that i would go back to making them uneven.. also i wasnt sure if i would get used to.. maybe i will try to gradually ease into it..
    the issue i was worried about with the fusion (other than the obvious dangers of such a surgery) is that it would limit my flexibility too much, e.i. i would not be able to sit the trot.. i suppose that would depend a lot on the location of my curve..
    this is much less important to me than the issue of uneveness in riding, but i have to ask, did anyone else have trouble dealing with body image issues? my his are uneven, and one side of the ribcage is larger than the other.. not super noticable, but i definanty am aware of it every day... one reason i don't swim in public or like going to the beach is because i am so self conscious in a bathing suit.. sometimes it is noticable in high waist riding pants as well..



  12. #12
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    Nov. 1, 2005
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    Quote Originally Posted by Liebe-ist-Krieg View Post
    the issue i was worried about with the fusion (other than the obvious dangers of such a surgery) is that it would limit my flexibility too much, e.i. i would not be able to sit the trot.. i suppose that would depend a lot on the location of my curve..
    this is much less important to me than the issue of uneveness in riding, but i have to ask, did anyone else have trouble dealing with body image issues? my his are uneven, and one side of the ribcage is larger than the other.. not super noticable, but i definanty am aware of it every day... one reason i don't swim in public or like going to the beach is because i am so self conscious in a bathing suit.. sometimes it is noticable in high waist riding pants as well..
    I can't remember my exact fusion stats (somewhere between the middle of my shoulder blades to just above or maybe just the upper portion of my lumbar vertebrae). I physically cannot arch my back, but I have "normal" flexibility in terms of being able to touch my toes, participate in any sport I want, ride/jump/fall off horses... I recall that the surgeon, 16 years ago, telling me that because my llower lumbar vertebrae were not fused that I would have flexibility and range of motion as well as almost any other person. I can definitely sit the trot- any problems I have with that are related to me not working on improving my riding, not my back!

    As far as body image issues, well, what woman doesn't have them! I too have the uneven hips, one shoulder higher, and one-side larger ribcage (mine is the right one- makes it uncomfortable to sit in hard-backed chairs for long periods of time). And for 16 years I have had a gigantic scar down the center of my back. But you know what? In most cases people dont notice. Truly. I really don't even think about my back-related issues... I worry more about keeping excess junk out of my trunk, as it were!
    ~Living the life I imagined~



  13. #13
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    Sep. 4, 2007
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    After falling headfirst into the water complex at Fair Hill (that will teach you to sit back) ... i was in the ICU for a while with compression fractures on T4-T7... I have chronic back pain, scoliosis, and I have actually shrunk an entire inch... subsequently I have some issues riding ... I cant sit evenly (one shoulder is always in front ) and its difficult to sit up straight (major slouch issues).

    Pilates/Yoga seems to be the best solutions.... ( hmm maybe I should borrow my horse's magnet blanket?!?!) and LOTS of advil/tylenol .... The worst is riding during cold, wet days.... but we all have our priorities!



  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Liebe-ist-Krieg View Post
    did anyone else have trouble dealing with body image issues? .

    Yup...lots of body image issues....but not much from my scholiosis....my big fat ass (even when it REALLY wasn't a big fat ass....oh what is wasted on youth) is far more of a body image issue for me!


    and I do think you can do pilates and yoga without a class although a class is good for motivation. I have actually had some fun with the wii fit for it's yoga and other balance games not perfect but better than nothing. It yells at you too.
    ** The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits. -- Albert Einstein **



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