I’ve been thinking quite a bit about scoliosis treatment and what we consider “success”. I had my surgery back in 2000 and it was deemed successful. Defining success is important because if it means one thing for a physician and another thing for a patient, it could be a recipe for disappointment and frustration.

At work, we talk as a team and discuss “what is the definition of ‘done’?” We need to come together as a group and decide what we consider to be “good enough” so that we can move forward and see progress. I can’t help but think, what is my criteria for my scoliosis? What is my definition of done when it comes to treatment? Am I ever done?

Scoliosis surgery forces the spine into the desired position. The objective is to reduce the size of the curvature and prevent the spine from curving more. This is pretty easy to do when you screw the spine to a metal rod. Brush hands together, done and done. However, if the patient’s definition of success is to be pain-free and the surgery introduces a different type of pain, for the patient, this is not a successful surgery. In my case, with the surgery being a preventative procedure, the intention was to prevent the spine from progressing to a position where it would negatively affect my internal organs (like the lungs and heart) and ensure that I would not experience chronic pain later in life. By that measure, my surgery was a major success. Yay! I do still have my s-shaped curve, but my surgeon felt like it was contained enough that I would be ok.

carlyn in gray dress 15 years after scoliosis surgery

So… success, right? Well… kind of. I do love the way I look (I mean we paid enough for it, so that’s a win. Thank goodness for insurance!) I even get compliments on my figure, but I still have the unsettling notion that my spine does this weird thing. Like, what’s the deal? There are times when I notice my shoulders are uneven and I can’t help but think, “oh, my upper curve is changing again.” It continues to move, but I’m no longer under a specialized physician’s care. After you’re ‘healed’, they’re kind of done with you. So I have concerns from time to time and I find comfort in knowing my chiropractor takes good care of me. But I can’t say my treatment journey is complete. It’s not a success yet. And that’s why I consider it a cosmetic surgery. They simply changed the way I look, and that’s kind of it. When I experience pain, I find the root cause and address it. I can’t say that I blame my scoliosis for it. If anything it is because I have scoliosis that I take pain very seriously and do whatever it takes to get rid of it naturally. Whether that be removing myself from a stressful job, city, or relationship, there’s no thing in this world that means more to me than allowing myself the ability to live each day mentally healthy and full of joy.

While I ponder what my success story could be, I will continue to work on my self-esteem, self-worth, and self-love. The scoliosis journey has a way of robbing you of these things. And I have to say, for me, a mini success step is looking in the mirror and loving what I see, unevenness and all. (And also, pretty dresses heal all wounds. That’s just science :))

What are your thoughts on scoliosis surgery?


carlyn in purple dress 15 years after scoliosis surgery