From painful severe scoliosis to taking on a marathon in 2020

Louise Laurie at Great North Run

Louise Laurie had scoliosis surgery in 2010. She is now in training to run the Manchester Marathon 2020. She writes a blog about her experiences of living with scoliosis, to raise awareness and to inspire others with the condition. 

We caught up with Louise to find out more about how scoliosis has impacted her, and why she has decided to take on epic physical challenges as a result.

Can you tell us a little bit about scoliosis. How has it affected you?

Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine, which I was diagnosed with when I was 14 years old. In my case, it was pretty severe. I required surgery to correct and stabilise my spine, which I had when I was 24. Having scoliosis affected me massively growing up, physically and emotionally.

Physically it was tough, as my spine was curved and twisted. It twisted the ribcage, which created a ‘rib hump’ on my back. This meant I was permanently uncomfortable when sitting on chairs, etc. I also had a physical deformity that made me very self-conscious. I avoided wearing certain clothes that showed off my back. It affected my self-esteem and self-confidence hugely and, at times, I felt very low and depressed.

I also had quite a bit of pain, which started in my early 20s. It involved muscle tightness and spasms that I could never shift, due to the pressure of the curvature on the back muscles. Other symptoms included numbness and pins and needles in my back, arms and legs, and reduced lung capacity, as my rib cage was pressing into my lung on one side.

That’s the thing about scoliosis; it is a back condition, but affects the whole body. In severe cases like mine, it can be very psychologically damaging, which a lot of people don’t realise.

Scoliosis Xrays

You had corrective surgery 10 years ago. Can you tell us a little about what that involved and how it changed your life?

The corrective surgery was a huge operation and a very scary time for me. I deliberated for 10 years whether to have the surgery or not, as I was so scared of the potential risks and the painful recovery.

In the end, I had the surgery at 24. I knew if I didn’t, there was a risk that my spine would continue to curve with age and it was already pretty severe. This scared me as much as the surgery itself, so I felt as though I was in a lose-lose situation. The pain was also getting much worse at this stage, and I was feeling pretty depressed about it all. At that time, for me, the surgery was worth the risk.

The surgery involved an 11-hour operation to straighten my spine. It was fused into a straighter position using the bone taken from my ribs and held in place with titanium rods and screws. I also had a procedure called a costoplasty, where they removed sections of several ribs to improve the appearance of my twisted rib cage.

The months following the surgery were probably some of the hardest months of my life. I was in a lot of pain and my movement was pretty restricted. I had to wear a back brace for 3 months and couldn’t bend, lift or twist for about 6 months after. Simple things that you take for granted, such as sitting on the toilet, sitting up in bed, or sitting on a sofa, I found very difficult in the early stages of recovery.

Having this surgery and getting through the recovery has changed my life in the sense that it has made me appreciate all the little things that are easy to take for granted. In this sense, it gave me a new zest for life and I became determined to live my life to the full and continually push myself.

It also showed me how strong I am and I figure, if I can get through a major surgery like that, I can get through anything.

What made you decide to run a marathon this year? And why Manchester in April 2020?

I’ve been running for several years, and I’m always trying to push myself further and also inspire others with scoliosis. I never thought I would walk again comfortably after the surgery, let alone run! I’m incredibly proud of how far I have come. Since my recovery, I have done many 10K races and 5 half-marathons, so a marathon seemed the next logical step and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

I’m at a stage in my life where I have minimal commitments. When a few of my friends from my run club signed up the Manchester Marathon last year, I thought, this has got to be my chance!

I chose Manchester mainly because my friends are doing it, so that I had people to train and run it with, but also, it’s a local marathon for me and a flat course as well. My ultimate dream would be to run the London Marathon one day, and raise money and awareness for scoliosis in the process.

Will the marathon be good training for your second challenge of the year, a 10-day trek to Machu Picchu?

I think it will be good training for sure (mentally and physically). After I have recovered from the marathon, I plan to start doing more hiking and climbing mountains in order to prepare for Machu Picchu.

The weather will also be better then (hopefully!), so should be perfect training weather.

What challenges do you face physically and emotionally to get ready for these big events?

Marathon training has been tough both physically and emotionally. It basically has taken over my life. The long training runs at 6.30am when it is cold, dark and raining outside have been the hardest, just motivating yourself to get out of bed and run 16+ miles. It’s not just running though; there’s so much preparation involved before and after a long run, for example, making sure you are hydrated and have eaten the right foods, get enough sleep, and that you recover properly and stretch. Crosstraining is also important to reduce the risk of injury.

I have found it tough emotionally at times. Running longer distances is painful, tiring and takes a toll on my back (and whole body!) after a while. I also struggle with my breathing when running sometimes, I think as my lung capacity is lower than ‘normal’ due to my scoliosis.

It can be hard fitting the training round your life, especially when you work full time. I’ve had to make sacrifices, for example missing out on social events or seeing friends/family, which has been difficult at times.

The people around me have made a huge difference though. Having people to train with is important and this has definitely kept me going through the pain. I couldn’t have done all this without the support of my family, friends and my colleagues at Cartridge People.

I also find having something to look forward after a long run, whether it be a hot bath, a glass of wine or a bar of chocolate, definitely helps to motivate me!

Why is it important to you to do these kinds of physical challenges?

It’s important for me, as I always like to have something to aim for, to push myself as much as I can and prove what I’m capable of. It gets quite addictive and I’m always looking for the next challenge!

Can you tell us a little bit about the charity you are raising money for?

Scoliosis Campaign Fund raises money to support people with scoliosis and their families, and fund research into finding the causes of scoliosis and treatments to improve quality of life for patients.

There is still little knowledge or understanding of scoliosis, which can make it difficult for people to access the care and information that they need, and can leave them feeling isolated and unsure where to turn.

Scoliosis Campaign Fund allows SAUK [Scoliosis Association UK] to continue its work supporting people with scoliosis and their families so that no-one has to go through scoliosis alone.

What advice would you give to others with Scoliosis?

I would say never let your scoliosis hold you back or stop you from doing things (unless you have been specifically told by a specialist not to do something!). Having scoliosis is nothing to be ashamed of. Embrace your curves; don’t hide them like I did. Remember, your story can and will inspire others.

You can read more about Louise here:

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