Hiking With Scoliosis

By: Lysianne Peacock + Save to a List

Scoliosis is largely an invisible condition unless in its most severe form that impacts my hiking ability greatly. Learn about what it is and how I hike through it.

This article was originally published on HIKEspiration.

Introduction

I remember the last mile of hiking back from Navajo Peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness as my lower back kept spasming causing enough pain to bring tears to my eyes. My hip felt like it was going to fall out of its socket. My favorite part of a hike is the destination but my second favorite part is getting to the car because after a long, challenging hike my back hurts so much that all I want to do is pop some over-the-counter pain reliever and to will the pain to go away. This is what hiking with scoliosis is like.

What is Scoliosis?

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NAIMS), scoliosis is the sideways curvature of the spine that is either S-shaped or C-shaped. It can occur in three areas of the spine: the cervical (neck) spine, the thoracic (middle) spine, and/or the lumbar (lower) spine (Jason Lowenstein M.D., 2018). Anyone can get scoliosis and it is usually caught and treated in adolescence.

Scoliosis can be broken down further by severity: mild, moderate, and severe. Mild scoliosis involves a curvature of less than 26 degrees and is easiest to overcome at this stage. Moderate scoliosis has a curvature between 25 and 40 degrees. Severe scoliosis is anything over 40 degrees and often requires surgery. Treating scoliosis in the mild moderate stages can help prevent reaching the severe stage.

Mild scoliosis usually is associated with no symptoms but moderate and severe scoliosis can present with:

  • Changes is posture
  • Uneven shoulders
  • One shoulder blade sticks out more
  • One hip is higher than the other
  • The rib cage sticks out
  • Back pain

Scoliosis Diagnosis

When I was twelve years old, I remember complaining about how my lower back would cramp up on our long car rides to meet my grandpa for lunch. The only relief I would get would be from switching positions and taking pressure off my spine. It wasn’t until I was 16 at my annual physical to participate in sports that the doctor discovered that I had a curvature in my spine. We made an appointment to get it evaluated and discovered it was a 31 degree curvature, which is considered moderate with evidence that I was starting to develop arthritis in my upper back from the compensation. Because of my age, bracing and other treatment options were out of the question. Instead, I have been dealt a hand of dealing with pain management.

Everyday Life

While scoliosis is physically obvious, it is largely an invisible ailment because people don’t look at it as causing problems unless it is in its more severe stage. In general, I live a pretty normal life and scoliosis does not affect my everyday activities but that does not mean that it is all sunshine and roses. I have to overcome back pain everyday when I find myself sitting or standing for too long, and I have near constant pain in my hips as well. For long car rides, I always bring some sort of pillow to provide lumbar support to avoid back pain and try to have over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications with me. I joke that I am a 24 year old stuck in a 50 year old body with pain my scoliosis causes me.

Hiking With Scoliosis

Hiking involves being on your feet for long periods of time, oftentimes carrying a weighted down pack. While backpacks are not good for your posture in general, the added weight significantly aggravates the muscles in my back. I have made a few adjustments in my hiking to make hiking enjoyable instead of dreadful. 

Picking the Right Pack

One thing I do is I always opt for an Osprey Anti-Gravity Suspension pack. These packs take the weight and tension out of your shoulders, back, and hips and redistributes the weight throughout the frame. The mesh adds an extra layer of comfort by allowing air flow to your back and making it less sweaty.

Utilizing Trekking Poles

Another thing I have added to my hiking regimen are trekking poles. I used to think they were unbelievably annoying, always getting in the way and just being bothersome to walk with. That was until I came across someone who told me that trekking poles took 30% of the impact off your body.  According to Outdoor Gear Lab, this number is actually 25%. Trekking poles have significantly improved my hiking experience and have left me in less pain during and after the hike.

Relishing the Breaks

Being on my feet for long periods of time can cause my back and hips to ache, so I take advantage of breaks when I get them. I will step off the trail to let other hikers by even if I have right-of-way. I will take my pack off and take a seat during any extended breaks. This allows my muscles to cool down and relax, while helping me make it to my destination and back.

Post-Hike Care

While not directly related to hiking, I try to regularly see a chiropractor, especially after long hikes, to adjust my back. Because of the pack and the impact, my vertebrae can become misaligned and cause more pain. Regular chiropractic care makes a huge difference in my pain management and helps me be ready for my next hike.

Advice to Others

Because of my scoliosis, I have developed a mindset that I don’t want to let anything that I can manage keep me from doing the things I love to do, and I encourage others to do the same. It is also important to know your own limits and to stay in tune with your body. Take those breaks when you need them.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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