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Can Pregnancy Make Scoliosis Worse? Blame The Hormone Relaxin

After pregnancy, I confronted an annoying specter from my childhood — a mild case of S-curve scoliosis, or a sway in the spine that often causes back pain. An injury prompted a visit to a chiropractor, who strongly believed my pregnancy had increased the curve's severity. That seemed right to me, especially when I looked back on a pregnancy riddled with sudden headaches, back pain, and a diagonal baby bump that grew within the cozy indent in my left side. But can pregnancy make scoliosis worse? Cursory internet research has suggested that pregnancy and scoliosis aren't as entwined as they felt to me, so what gives?

"Many women report that their scoliosis seems to become more painful during their pregnancy, especially in the low back," explained Dr. Josh Woggon, executive director of the CLEAR Scoliosis Institute and author of the CLEAR blog, in an email interview with Romper. "The additional weight of the fetus places increased strain upon imbalanced muscles and joints, which can increase the risk of back pain, hip pain, and leg pain." In terms of its effect on your quality of life, scoliosis is a matter of degree, according to the University of Maryland. Traumatic injury, age-related degeneration, thoracic surgery, and yes, pregnancy, can all increase the role scoliosis plays in your life.

According to Woggon, the physical strain of carrying that bump isn't the only potential culprit. The hormone relaxin, released to prepare the body for the stress of labor, literally "relaxes" the ligaments holding your bones in place. "As these ligaments loosen, it can increase the chances the scoliosis will get worse," he writes.

Older studies, like one published in Evidence Based Spine Care, seem to show that pregnancy generally doesn't impact the progression of scoliosis. (This study, conducted in 2011, is still your first hit on a 'scoliosis and pregnancy' Google search today.) But Woggon pointed to newer research published in the journal Neurological Focus that draws a different conclusion. He explains:

"In my opinion, it's most accurate to say that there is a high probability that scoliosis increases the risk of back pain in women with scoliosis, and that pregnancy may cause the curve to progress in some cases. However, more research is needed to determine which women are most at risk, and exactly how great that risk might be."

In the world of bends and curves, doctors often advise patients to wait-and-see. Will your slightly parenthetical spine cause health problems in the future, or will the scoliosis fairy spare you complications? As a chiropractor, Woggon favors preventative care, similar to how a dentist prefers preventing cavities to waiting for tooth decay. Understanding that scoliosis and pregnancy don't always play nicely can help you care for your spine, and prevent problems down the line. To that end, chiropractors, physical therapists, and even massage therapists might be your best allies. If you're trying to get pregnant or are pregnant now, and scoliosis was part of your adolescence, find a chiropractor trained in maternal-fetal medicine or the Webster technique.

Scolisois isn't dangerous for a developing baby or a birthing mother, and it doesn't increase your chances of a C-section, according to Woggon. I certainly don't regret my pregnancy — compared with a great many women, it was smooth sailing. However, I do regret assuming my scoliosis was down for the count when I could have visited a chiropractor or physical therapist from the get go.

Tell your birth team about any past spinal health issues, especially if you've had scoliosis fusion surgery, which can very rarely impact the administration of epidural anesthesia. Knowledge is power, as they say, and if you become pregnant, scoliosis may become more than just a quirk of your past. If you have questions or concerns, ask your healthcare provider for more information.

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