Chic Chick interviews Georgie
Chic Chick: Georgie, it’s a pleasure to be able to speak with you and share your experiences with scoliosis. As part of the forum we hope to give a little advice and support for our forum members and those who have scoliosis and their families in need of a place to chat, to get some fashion advice and some positive stories about life after a brace or surgery. I guess it may come as a surprise to some members of the forum that you have scoliosis. How was your scoliosis detected?
Georgie: My scoliosis was first detected by my mum when I had just turned 13. She was rubbing sun cream on my back and said, "Sit up straight darling", unfortunately I thought I was. This led to me see a spinal specialist for the first time. He decided that bracing was the best option for me and that's when I got Boris the brace. I thought I should give him a name to personalise the whole process and that worked for me.
From the start I saw Boris as my ally, he was there to help me and I really felt that he did. I didn't fight the fact that I was braced or that I had scoliosis. I have the back I am supposed to have and I embrace it to this day.
Chic Chick: I guess that I am in a similar boat. I had no idea I had scoliosis until I went to the school screening in Year 7 and was monitored for about 12 months before I too saw a spinal specialist. I figured that I had to wear the brace so I was going to wear it as well as I possibly could and that I would do all that I could to make sure that the brace was successful. In the end I just couldn’t get rid of my brace and, while not named, it’s still in the attic!
How do you find scoliosis impacts your daily life?
Georgie: Having scoliosis does impact on your life whether you have had corrective surgery or not. But if you really look at it most people have something that needs vigilant attention, whether it be an old sporting injury or a newly acquired ailment. I think one of the assets of scoliosis is that you must be proactive in your approach to any flare ups or it will get the better of you very quickly. How many people say, "Oh yeah, my back's playing up, my shoulder, my knee" but then don't have a plan of action for dealing with it.
My approach to my back has always been physical activity. Be as active as possible, within reason.
Chic Chick: I absolutely agree and get pretty fidgety if I have had an inactive day. I have just been on assignment in Brazil where expats catch taxis to work - I really missed the simple walk to the train station of a morning.
Is it true that you had aspirations to become a ballerina?
Georgie: I did ballet as a child and was very good at it. I actually went on to teach it, but when my specialist told me I would not be able to do professional ballet due to my degree of curvature I think I was in a way relieved that I could start to pursue acting. Being good at ballet kind of created an expectation that I would naturally pursue it but the discipline that I learnt from ballet has stood me in great stead in my general approach to work. Anyone who has danced will tell you that.
Chic Chick: Wow, I did ballet too….from the sounds of it, at a very different level to you. I must admit that moving onto point shoes coincided with me going to high school so I jumped into tennis, hockey, soccer, any team sport that would have me. I managed to keep up all of my sports while I had the brace and starting swimming almost daily.
I know that for me, daily stretching helps to keep my body in tune – what kind of exercise do you find helpful?
Georgie: I have been an avid exerciser in general. I have a lot of energy, and for everyone's benefit I am usually better when I have exerted myself in some way. When I was young it was dance in general, and a lot of stretching, a bit of tennis and softball. When you leave school you’re left to your own devices in terms of motivation. That's when I really got into swimming.
My specialist always said swimming would be one of the best things you could do if you have scoliosis, and of course he is right. I loved to run too because it's so strenuous but this can of course create a lot of problems and reoccurring issues with a significant curvature. Suffice to say I no longer run.
Chic Chick: I’m also a keen swimmer…. A couple of years back I decided to take it a little more seriously joining swim squads and entering ocean swimming races. I love it and a little healthy competition to beat your own time keeps it a real challenge.
You hear a lot about yoga and meditation to sensibly manage your health and wellbeing. I find yoga really helps your core strength and flexibility, which I think makes a difference every day. Are you a yoga girl?
Georgie: My big love apart from swimming is Pilates. Having been a dancer it concentrates on all my areas of strength and alerts me to my areas of weakness. It's all about a balanced workload and we all know that with a curvature you have a myriad of issues regarding some areas being stronger than others.
I find a lot of people with scoliosis are quite flexible, and so to concentrate on an exercise that explores your flexibility but works on strength is the best combination.
I find yoga can sometimes cause a flare up in my shoulder because of the positions being held for so long. Pilates tends to move through the exercises and has more fluidity. However, a lot of people find yoga is very beneficial so I would put it down to your type of curvature and it's severity as to what would work for you. But swimming is a must.
Chic Chick: Have you found that your symptoms have changed over the years? What have you found is the best way to manage the day-to-day pressures of work, family, exercise etc. on your body?
Georgie: When I have a flare up I tend to see my Physio and we also do some strapping. It's very important for me to be proactive as soon as I have an acute phase, and I established a relationship with my Physio not long after my daughter was born.
Chic Chick: Similarly, I have a spinal physio who has helped me over a number of years at times of flare up and as ongoing "maintenance". He has given me some daily exercises which keep me in check. I also see a myotherapist, which is really a preventative step and manages my body to prevent the flare ups.
And so to fashion…. You always seem to look comfortable in your own skin whether it’s the Logies, in a nurse’s uniform or on Home and Away. How do you manage it? Having moved to Melbourne, I’ve become an absolute convert to layering up with tops and scarves. What types of clothes have you found the most comfortable?
Georgie: Mmmmm, fashion! Well my sister and my daughter think my fashion is hit and miss, but I think that's more to do with the fact that I've never actually followed fashion. I've always worn what has been practical, comfortable and will disguise my curvature.
When I first got Boris I had to wear long loose tops or loose dresses, and I really liked that. It was so comfortable.
And as I've gotten older I still wear looser things with jeans. I love jewellery, scarves, colour and texture, and I layer as well.
When I have to do the night out, i.e. the Logies, I have found a couple of designers who really understand my back and my style. Strapless dresses work well for me. I hate wearing high heels, partly because after so much ballet I now have bunions and also my back does not like it. So I go more for a platform shoe to get the height I want.
Chic Chick: Finally, wearing a brace can be tough. What advice can you give us on finding your own style through what can be a rough time for some of our members?
Georgie: I think having scoliosis, or any other issue that comes to the fore when you are young, really tests you, and you find out what you’re made of. I think everyone has it in them to rise to the occasion so to speak. Sometimes they just need a nudge in the right direction.
Chic Chick: Georgie, it has been a pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much for taking the time to share some of your thoughts with all of us on the forum.
Re: Some additional remarks
Georgie was found to have an idiopathic thoracic scoliosis when she was 12 years old during her growth spurt. The curve progressed and a bracing program was commenced in her 13th year. Georgie was "very flexible" as she had a moderate degree of generalised ligamentous laxity, that is, the range of motion at most of her joints was greater than the average normal. Hence, not unexpectedly, quite a good curve correction was obtained with the brace. However, when the time came for her to be weaned away from the brace, the curve relapsed as sometimes occurs. When she was 17 her curve was approaching the surgical category but it then remained unchanged over several years. Throughout adolescence Georgie had remained extremely fit and trim by regularly exercising several hours a day.
Earlier on Georgie had aspirations to be a ballerina but the magnitude of her curve was such that this was not a practical career option. So she chose to pursue a career in the theatre where she has been most successful.
Georgie did not return for follow-up until she was in her early 40s. By then her curve had progressed considerably but she had only minor back pain and stiffness which she controlled well by daily stretching and exercise. When her symptoms become more troublesome she has found it helpful to work with a physiotherapist until the acute phase settles. She swims regularly, remains quite slender and is also careful not to put excessive strain on her spine in her various daily activities. These precautions have been the key to her successful self-management of the symptoms from her scoliosis, a good example for those with symptomatic scoliosis in early adult life.
Postscript re Scoliosis in the Adult: It is to be appreciated that the indications to treat an idiopathic scoliosis (approximately 90 per cent of all cases of scoliosis) by surgery in adult life are pain and disability. These are extremely difficult symptoms to evaluate. Further, scoliosis surgery in the adult is a very different proposition from the same surgery in a teenager. The incidence of surgical complications is much higher in the adult than it is in the mid-teens. The decision to proceed to spinal fusion in an adult with painful scoliosis is made only after the most careful consideration. It is also important to understand that in adult life there is no direct relationship between pain and disability and either the degree of the curve and/or the severity of secondary "wear and tear" changes as seen on the spinal x-ray.
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