Problems and Suggestions for Scoliosis and Spinal Fusion

  Part 6—Problems and Solutions-Living with a Scoliosis or a Spinal Fusion  (a continuing series) Video at bottom of page

  Problems will be in GreenSolutions in Blue   


 Back Pain is probably the biggest issue for both those with scoliosis or a fused spine?

  • Water Therapy, Swimming, Exercise, Massage Therapy, Pilates, seeing a Chiropractor , Physical Therapy, Relaxation techniques & Ibuprophen can be of help.  Each person must try to find what works best for her/him when in pain.  
  •   HYDROTHERAPY –water therapy can be the absolute best as it provides weightlessness and relaxes tense muscles.  There are many Recreation Centers, Community or School pools that offer different types of water therapy. (I prefer swimming laps and then relaxing in a therapy pool. )
  • Keeping at a reasonable weight for your body type is important as extra weight stresses the back and legs, which may cause additional pain.  That is why excercise and eating a good diet are so important.
  • Getting enough sleep, but not staying in one position for long periods.

You cannot bend or stretch much because of a fusion or pain.

  • Purchase a “reacher or grabber”.    There are also businesses that carry special medical equipment or small items that can benefit you.
  • I find that using a Heating Pad at night helps with back pain, although purchase one that has an auto-shut off.
  • Hot Tubs–We have a personal theraputic hot tub that I use daily, usually in the morning to help with back stiffness after rising.

You may be limited on how much weight you can carry.

  • Try using smaller purses and back-packs. Be cognizant of the amount of weight that you lift or carry.

Feeling “Different” or restricted.  Teenagers or young adults may feel “different” from their peers.

    •  First of all, explain to others what your health issue is about–people are very accepting if they know that you are not overly sensitive?
    • Join groups and activites that you enjoy.
    • Find physical activities or sports that you can participate in and that may help your physical condition. (You should discuss with your Doctor regarding which activities are best for your condition)
      Please see the following video about a young lady who has pursued her interest in Gymnastics while undergoing treatment  for scoliosis.



  • ATTITUDE—keep a positive attitude and have supportive, positive friends.
    For me –swimming is foremost–it not only helps relieve back pain, it lifts my spritits and gives me the needed excercise.
    Massage Therapy as 2nd, which I have done for an hr. every 2 weeks for about the past 15 years. It can be expensive, but can really ease some of the pain.  It loosens the muscles and scar tissue around the fusion and relaxes the tenseness caused from the lack of movement in the fused area.  In the case of scoliosis, deep tissue massage helps the muscles relax  in the back.  I prefer really deep tissue massage and can move with much more ease after a session.

Part 7–Our Daughter’s Scolioisis story starting at age 5.
(She became a professional Ballet Dancer)


Growing up with a Spinal Fusion

Part 5: Growing up with a Spinal Fusion

During my teen years, I pretty much did what other teens do, although I was unable to participate  in Gym Classes.  I could ride a bike but with a very rigid posture.  Although I was very small boned and had large breasts, which made me quite self-conscious with my very erect posture, I was a happy teen.  I became quite outgoing and always befriended the underdog.  I dated quite a few nice guys and attended most dances and activities and never really felt uncomfortable about others knowing of my spinal fusion.

I had been told because of the extent of the fused spine that having children might cause a problem.  This did worry me some as I loved kids and was a camp counselor at age 15 ½ at the YWCA for 2 yrs. And then spent 2 summers with girls who had been placed in a special school.  We had camp at a Lake in MI even though the girls were from Toledo, OH.  I enjoyed this camp and loved living and working with the girls, primarilily in crafts and swimming, along with day-to-day activities and a few outings.  My back always gave me some pain, but staying active helped. Swimming was my favorite sport and still is.   More on my past.

I met my husband, John, in college and we got married after our sophomore year.  I took some time off of college to work full time at a State Home for the Physically and Mentally Challenged  individuals doing Arts and Crafts and Occupational Therapy.  I loved the job and the residents.  Mentally challenged individuals are now rarely institutionalized and are mainstreamed into society  if possible.

I did not get pregnant for over 3 years and we thought it might be becasue of my spinal fusion.  We applied for adoption and then I found out that we were pregnant.  Just 2 weeks after our 4th Anniversary we had a baby girl, then a boy and another girl about 2 years apart. I was considered a “high risk” preganancy and advised to gain only about 15 lbs. with each pregnancy.  I only weighed 122 lbs. when I delivered our first girl.  I did not seem to have much difficulty carrying the babies, but labor was all in my back and they could not do an epidural as there was no spacing between my vertabrae.  We were very happy that we had been able to have 3 children.  It was suggested that we stop with the 3 as each baby was larger.  Read more on spinal fusions.

Part 5 — Growing up with a Spinal Fusion

Part 6–Problems and Solutions living with a Spinal Fusion

Part 7:  Our Daughter’s Scoliosis Story

Part 8:  What Angelie is doing now


Spinal Fusion Home Recovery

Part 4    Scoliosis Surgery Home Recovery

An ambulance type vehicle took me home in Dec. 1958.  I was placed in a hospital bed that was donated by The Shriners.  I was also given prism glasses donated by The Optimist Club.  I was flat on my back and could be turned once a day onto a wedge pillow which left my face about 4 inches from the sheets. Although striped sheets were not my favorite, being so close for an hr., the change of position was welcome. 

Finally I was fitted for a body cast that was heavy plaster.  It was from my chin to the base of my torso, front and back.  A large hole was left mid stomach for air.  I would remain in this cast for 10 months without getting up.  A visiting nurse would stop by periodically to check for bed sores.  A Junior High girl friends’ Dad made me a desk type structure that fit over my cast.  While wearing the prism glasses I was able to see the shelf of the modified desk and was able to read, write and paint.  One of my Mom’s cousin had brochures from each State sent to me to look at and I loved Colorado the best.  We now live in Colorado. 

In the photo, my prism glasses can be seen on my forehead.  I was hooked up to my 8th grade classroom by a telephonic speaker so that I could hear my classes, winter semester, while being confined to bed.  From the Kalamazoo Gazette: “Thanks to Easter Seal funds and generous neighbors, Martha Kay’s long absence from her Oakwood Junior High School classes have ended even though she remains flat on her back”.   The article was written in early 1959 by Easter Seals, during their fund raising. 

I passed the time with schoolwork, friend’s and family visits, painting, reading and praying.   It was hard when Spring came and I could hear my younger brother, sister and friends, playing outside.  I did get to see a Robin build a nest, lay eggs and the hatching of the baby birds right outside my window in a forsythia bush.

When I had my final check up, again transported by ambulance to Blodgett Hospital, where the cast was removed.  I had ¼ “ of dried skin underneath the cast and I fainted from the odd feeling of having the cast removed.  I had worn it for 7 months and had not been in an upright position. I then needed to learn to walk again, which although sounds easy, was a bit challenging at first.   I spent that summer in a removable type body brace, which I wore for 6 months into my 9thgrade year school year.

Part 5 — Living with a complete Spinal Fusion done in 1958

Part 6–Problems and Solutions living with a Spinal Fusion

Part 7:  My Daughter Angelie’s Scoliosis Story

Part 8:  What Angelie is doing now






Part 3—My Scoliosis Surgeries

On Sept 24, 1958, I was wheeled in for my first surgery for Scoliosis. This surgery was to straighten from the last Thoracic vertebra (T-12) to the last Lumbar vertebra (L-5).   See Spinal Column  This was the longest and most painful of the two surgeries.

Cadaver bone chips were attached a section of my partially straightened spine section and would hopefully grow into my own bones, which meant many bedridden months.  At that time the Harrington Rod was not yet used in most spinal fusions.

The surgery took about 5 hours.  I vaguely remember starting to come awake during the procedure.  I was then given Ether, (an older anesthetic), which they had not planned on using.  I was put in Critical Care, (ICU) although really not sure what it was called back then.  I guess I kept asking to take the terrible smell away, which was the Ether smell.   I think my parents applied some kind of perfumed cream to my arm to help cover the smell of the ether.  (To this day, I do not like perfume).  I was in critical condition for about 8 days and my parents were told that I might not pull through.  One of my worst memories is that a new Dr. came into my room and sat on my bed to speak with me.  It moved my back enough so that I was in so much pain that I lost consciousness.  My parents said that every time that Dr. would pass by the room, I would scream.  I was told that he felt terrible and had not realized that he should not sit on my bed.

I believe that I was in the hospital for 10-14 days and then moved back to Mary Free Bed to await the next surgery on my thoracic/lumbar area. I was back in the Milwaukee Brace.  During my hospital stay, I had several roommates, unfortunately all in critical condition suffering from broken necks, brain tumor surgery and one having a spinal fusion. My folks kept telling me that following surgery each had been transferred to a different room, but several months later told me the truth, which was they did not survive their surgeries. 

My next surgery of the thoracic spine was scheduled for Oct. 28th.  I was most reluctant to have another surgery, but knew it had to be done.  The second operation was from Thoracic 12 up to and including Thoracic 5, again with bone grafts.  I recovered more rapidly from this surgery back in Mary Free Bed and was transported home in Dec. shortly after I turned 14. 

Surgeries today are done much differently.  For a personal story from the new way to treat scoliosis read Michelle’s story.

Always laugh when you can.  It is cheap medicine.

Part 4—10 months  at home in bed




SCOLIOSIS–Personal Story


Part 2   Diagnosis

My scoliosis was suspected at the end of my 7th grade school year on a routine Doctor visit.  My Mother had been saying to me ”Martha Kay, stand up straight”.  I thought I was standing up straight, but had noticed that my hip was raised on one side of my body, but just thought it was part of puberty and I was developing a waist. (I was just 13 and scoliosis screening was not yet done).

After a summer of daily sessions of PT and the curve continued to progress, I was sent to Grand Rapids from my home town of Kalamazoo, MI. for evaluation.  It was determined that I had a 40-degree thoracic and a 60-degree lumbar “S” curve.  My Orhtopedist, Dr. Charles Frantz, (see 1962) was considered the best in MI for treating scoliosis.

Milwaukee Brace

That August I was admitted to Mary Free Bed  Convalescent Home and placed in a Milwaukee Brace. (At left). The brace was routinely moved up under my chin as they began stretching the spine to straighten it as much as possible, prior to my first scheduled surgery on Sept. 24, 1958. It had been a shock to me that I was now bedridden, which I had not been told prior to my appointment in Grand Rapids. I began to become a talker, mostly to keep myself occupied and to entertain others in various medical conditions at Mary Free Bed. (Definitely not a free bed). When any of the staff would see that I could move my head, the chin part of the brace was moved up to stretch my spine. I thought I would be looking like a giraffe before I was done. I had relatives visit about once a week. When I reached about 5’5″, surgery was scheduled for Sept. 24, 1958 on the lumbar area from thoracic 12 to lumbar 5.

See Diagram of  the Vertebral Column.

If you have a story about your scoliosis or spinal fusion, please leave it under “comments” or email me at

Part 2–Surgeries—next in series

New Breast Cancer Screening

BREAST CANCER SCREENING VIDEO BY TED—Innovative Testing for the Future!

For all of us women who have tired of mammography and having our breasts pressed between two plastic trays and then tightened to get the best view possible, which is usually painful. There may be new hope for a NEW Breast Cancer Screening that not only is easier but with much better results.   Although there are 2 plates involved they do not come down onto the breasts like a vise, nor are you asked to get in an uncomfortable position.  Please take the time to view this informative video.   Thank you to TED for making this video possible. Dr. Deborah Rhodes is an expert at managing breast-cancer risk. The director of the Mayo Clinic’s Executive Health Program is now testing a gamma camera that can see tumors that get missed—

Rotator Cuff Surgery


 My rotator cuff surgery was done July 2008, due to several complete and partial muscle tears.  The supraspinatus was the one that was surgically repaired. There was also some scraping of bone spurs (debridement). The tear was repaired both with arthroscopic surgery and a small incision surgery.  

The following ideas are worth knowing prior to having any shoulder surgery.  Surgeons do surgery; therapy and proper preparation are up to the patient and PT.  I find that it is imperative to have a PT that works in this body area both pre and post surgery.  

Pre-Surgery:  Pulley to help strengthen arm—need a PT’s advice on what exercises to do. (pulley hangs over door & is usually provided in the orthopedic office).  

Physical Therapy: Without the advice of my Physical therapist, I would not have known when to move from passive to active motion, how to use the pulley at each improvement or when to start thera-bands.   

Post surgery PT should be required!    Would not have had the constant, consistant improvement without my PT.  

WATER THERAPY: I started in a hot tub at day 18 and slowly let my arm rise in the water. (no active arm movement at this time).  I continued this daily and then started more movement in the hot tub.  At 6 weeks, out of sling, I went to a therapy pool.  At 9 weeks I swam using only the breaststroke carefully and did  arm motions suggested by PT for hydrotherapy.  

PRODUCTS & INFORMATION: Patient should be advised of the following Pre-Surgery & again post–surgery.  

Rt. Arm surgery—need a recliner that can be worked with left arm or make some furniture adjustments, since much time is spent in recliner post surgery.  There seem to be no left arm lift recliners, other than couch with operation facilitated by an electrical button or side pull.  If surgery is on Left shoulder than it is easier to find a recliner that operates with the right arm.  

If Dominant arm surgery—start practicing eating, combing hair, brushing teeth, pulling up pants etc. before your surgery.  

Button down shirts, blouse or dresses should be purchased prior to surgery, as nothing can be pulled overhead with your arm in a  fixed type sling.  

Possibly purchase an extra sling for washing one—available at a Medical Supply Stores.  

Shampoo, Cream Rinse, etc. should be placed in bottles with plunger tops, so that it can be done one-handed.  ( Bottles like Soft-Soap—counter size can be emptied and replace with shampoo and cream rinse).   

A shower seat is nice to have, if you have a hand held shower attachment.  

A pillow from Scandia Down (on Fillmore in Denver) is a lifesaver. Scandia Down pillows can be ordered  or by phone.  We had to order a 2nd one after my accident in MI.  It is square and placed behind the back and cushions around the back and shoulder.   FABULOUS, but about $120   Well worth the money!  


BEST home-made Ice Pack.  Take kitchen towel and place in 1 gallon Ziploc Bag.  Mix ½ Isopropyl Alcohol w/ the other half water—about ¾ cup ea..  After mixing,  Pour into Ziploc Bag , saturating the towel.  Zip bag, taking out air and place with Zipped end into another gallons Ziploc.  Freeze. Ice pack is flexible and can be wrapped in another kitchen towel and placed over surgery area.  The cold will last about 20-30 minutes and then can be refrozen—also great for children when they have injuries.  

Recommended Websites about Rotator Cuff surgery:
 Mayo Clinic       Cleveland Clinic




10 Quick Health Tips


Leg Cramps
Take Calcium at night, especially if you suffer leg cramps during the night. Add potassium and magnesium with the Calcium.  I also take Quinine by adding about 1/3 glass of Tonic water to my juice in the morning.  If I forget to do these things, I can pretty much be assured of having leg cramps during the night.

UPDATED for LEG CRAMPS—Soap in the bed.  And YES it really works!

 Antibiotic Side Effects
It is a good idea to take probiotics (acidophilus) while taking antibiotics.  Antibiotics do not discriminate good bacteria from bad bacteria.  They just kill all bacteria.  You may end up with severe diarrhea, a yeast infection or thrush if your body reacts to the antibiotic. 

Upset Stomach from Taking Medication
If I must take meds at night either at home or in the hospital, I have found that taking a few bites of a banana will keep the stomach calm.

Bee & Insect Stings
I use a paste of baking soda mixed with water and apply to area.  It should stop the hurt.  My Grandson thought it was pretty neat.  Small Cuts

Skin Cuts
I love “New Skin” or “Skin Shield” (liquid bandage).
 Once the bleeding stops, I apply Liquid Bandage over the cut area.  It stings for a second, but it will heal quicker than traditional methods.  I carry a bottle with us on all trips.  It is great for children’s cuts as they do not have a bandage to pull off.  It MUST be applied by an adult and should not be left where children can reach it.  I have used it on my grandkids for small cuts. It evenstays water–proof for awhile.

 Bloody Nose
Sometimes when the bleeding becomes heavy—using a Tampax in the nasal passage will help collect the blood until it stops.  (Probably not something you want to do in public, but is useful).

 Any Bleeding
Maxi pads are very absorbant and can be used for profuse bleeding until the person gets medical help.  Children, particularily teens, aren’t crazy about this idea, but it is better than a wad of kleenex at absorbing blood.

For years I have used a wash cloth that has been soaked in vinegar to pull the heat from the sunburn—works well. 

Warding off Colds or Flu viruses
Use a SALINE nasal spray daily.  It helps clean the nasal passages of bacteria that might collect in the nose and grow.  It washes dirt and bacteria from the nose, which is where colds start.  Both my husband and I use nasal spray just prior to boarding an airplane and if it is a long flight use it several times during the flgiht.  We have found that we rarely get colds or sinus infection after a flight since using this method as we had in the past. 

Colds & Flu
Grandma’s old rememdy–chicken soup–add a fresh clove of garlic for more medicinal effect.  If patient can eat the garlic, that is even better.

The Greatest Ice Pack

My Favorite websites for checking out Diseases, Conditions and Medications are:   &


Knee Replacement

Post Knee Replacement

There are many kinds of knee surgeries. Knee Replacement is what we will talk about in this blog.  Knee replacement is usually necessary when an arthritic or badly injured knee becomes extremely painful and it feels like bone is rubbing on bone.  When you cringe when you have to climb stairs or when kneeling is almost impossible, it is time to see an orthopedist that specializes in replacements. Sometimes they will inject the knee  or have you do certain therapies to extend the time before you will need to have a replacement. Usually knee replacement is discouraged until at least age 55, some Drs. say 60.

I have had 2 knee replacements and suffered with knee pain all during my 50’s.  What helped me most was swimming at least once a week and water therapy pool. What hurt the most was; climbing uphill, any kneeling, going up or down stairs or dancing. Since we lived in a 2 story home and my office was in the finished basement, the bathroom and kitchen on the main floor, I did the stairs many times a day, with the pain.

My first knee replacement was in 2004. I chose the right knee first.  After not being placed in a CPM machine for several days, even with therapy, the initial recovery process was slow. I caught up within 2 weeks or so.  My 2nd replacement in 2006, same orthopedist, was done in a different facility and I was put on a CPM (continuous positive motion) while still in the Recovery room.  It was paced at a slow pace. I asked to have it brought home with me for 2-3 weeks (rental) following discharge from the hospital (usually 2-4 days post surgery).  I did my required & more therapy each day. A therapist usually comes to your home–many times both Physical and Occupational therapists are sent to check on you and help. I also did extra exercises as tolerated–you MUST be diligent about doing your exercises, even on your bad days.  I used the CPM machine and cranked up the bend & speed each day.  You must have a bed footboard or couch end where the machine can stay stable, otherwise the machine will move away from you.  I asked to be put in the CPM during the night for an hour or two–it took pressure off my back and also kept the knee having motion during the night.  It eliminated some stiffness and pain in the morning. I consider the CPM machine to be your best bet for a quicker recovery.  Many times you must ask for it.  If your Dr. says “you don’t need it”, tell him/her — You do!

I previously could not walk, sleep or even swim without pain and within 5 weeks of 2nd knee replacement I could go to a therapy pool and do some moderate swimming.   At 6 wks. I was doing laps in the pool..  I find that Drs., in general, do not stress water therapy enough.  It is non-weight bearing and makes movement so easy and recovery much quicker.  I was able to walk upstairs without pain, able to dance and have full knee flexion on both knees.  I was told I would not be able to do the breast stroke with the normal “frog stroke” with my legs.  I try to swim laps twice a week and CAN do the frog stroke–no pain.  I can even dance the polka w/o pain.  I have NO knee pain still.  How long do the replacements last?  I asked my Dr. if they lasted a couple of decades as I had heard.  she said “I will let you know when we get there”.  Much depends on your initial recovery so make the best effort to do all that is necessary to recover.  Those few weeks of pain, pay off if you do what you should.

So here are the musts for Knee Replacement Surgery & recovery:

*Pre-Surgery: Find yourself a pool to swim in or use a therapy pool if one is available –4-6 weeks prior to your replacement to strengthen knee, as tolerated.  Don’t push too hard–just get your muscles as strong as you can.

De-Stress Your Life

It is difficult to avoid all of the daily pressures and not have stress. Stress is particularily high at this time because of economic & job pressures.   Stress can be controlled through some helpful tips that will help us live healthier, happier and more productive lives.

Don’t Pull Your Hair Out–De-Stress

* Do something you really enjoy each day
* Prepare for each day by setting out clothes and materials that you will need for the next day.
* What you want to do tomorrow, do today, what you want to do today , do now.  Do not procrastinate.
* Make a realistic list of things you want to accomplish each day, either the night before or in the morning.
* Exercise during the day—for office workers, take a short walk outdoors, weather permitting.
* If you like to do yoga or swimming, these exercises can also relieve or prevent stress.
* Be kind to unkind people–they probably need it.
* Try smiling at each person you pass during the day–it may lift their spirits, along with yours.
* Do nothing that you will ever have to lie about.
* Don’t compomise your own integrity
* Listen to your inner voice — it is there for a reason
* Make promises sparingly and keep them faithfully.
* When you start to worry–remove yourself from the situation which can be done both physically and mentally.
* Think about someplace you have been that you really enjoyed and where you felt peaceful.

Find what works for you to relieve anxiety and stress.  Each person it different.

I am a natural worrier, so some things that work for me are;
* saying a short prayer repetitiously    * swimming laps–counting the laps as I swim    * Removing myself from whatever I am obsessing or worrying about–at least for a reasonable time.   * Sitting in the sunshine   * Reading some uplifting short story or watching a comedy like “I Love Lucy”, “The Golden Girls” or “Everybody Loves Raymond”.
                  Laughter is an instant vacation”.

*Find a Mantra or Prayer that you can say repeatedly.  (During my early recovery from my fall down the flight of stairs–see Marty’s Memoirs–I said “The Guardian Angel Prayer” probably 20 times each day–it helped with pain mangement and stress).    

* Looking at peaceful pictures.  

“Worry is nothing less than the misuse of your imagination! ” Franklin Covey