Last week I discovered that I had something in common with Richard III – something more than being born in the glorious county that is Yorkshire, and a shared hatred of all things Lancastrian (jokes). In fact, the newly discovered body of Richard III and I both have scoliosis – a curvature of the spine.
Whilst watching Channel 4’s documentary ‘Richard III: The King in the Car Park’ I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the people involved in the excavation – those determined to prove that Richard wasn’t quite the evil person he has been painted as in the 500 years since his death – seemed to hinge an awful lot of the overall verdict of Richard’s character on whether he had a hunchback or not. Their theory was that Richard didn’t have any of the physical deformities he was reported to, and that the hunched back and withered arm had just been fabricated by the Tudors in order to make Richard seem even more thoroughly unappealing.
At one point in the programme one of the ‘Ricardians’ became quite enraged at the suggestion that the skeleton discovered in the car park (later proved to be Richard) had an s-shaped spine, practically screaming “HE WAS A GREAT FIGHTER, HOW COULD HE HAVE WORN ARMOUR?” in the face of the presenter of the show. This not only shows a worrying amount of attachment to a historical figure, but also a severe lack of knowledge of what scoliosis actually is.
I have scoliosis, but I don’t have a hunchback. In fact, I had noticed a sign of scoliosis about three years before anyone else even realised I had it. When I was around 13, I noticed that one side of my ribcage seemed to stick out more on my left side than my right. I mentioned my “sticky-out rib” (not medical terminology) to my doctor, and at the time, after much discussion and poking and prodding, it was decided that it was just a nodule that might eventually disappear, and that there was nothing to worry about.
Three years later, at my house in the middle of a routine appointment with my physiotherapist, I stretched to touch my toes, and the jumper I was wearing slid down my back. My physiotherapist immediately noticed something not quite right with my spine, and realised it was shaped like an ‘s’. The curve goes sideways and is only slight, and the only effects seem to be my sticky-out left rib at the front and sticky-out right rib at the back. As soon as it was discovered, I was sent to a back specialist, as there was a chance I would have had to wear a cast in order to prevent a further curve to my spine. As it turned out that my spine had done all its sideways growing for the time being, so I didn’t need anything quite so severe.
The cause of 80% of scoliosis cases is unknown, but it can sometimes be caused by other conditions, such as those that involve a weakening of the muscles. Scoliosis is perhaps surprisingly common, with three or four children in every thousand having some form of it, and in people over 65 it’s thought that as many as 70% of people have some degree of scoliosis. In children, 90% of cases need no treatment whatsoever, and I think it goes without saying that most sufferers don’t have a visible ‘hunch’ to deal with! I can now rest easy that should I ever end up in battle I would be able to wear armour over my spine. A comforting fact indeed.