Epidurals and scoliosis

July 18, 2010 at 10:15 pm

About two years ago I went to a chiropractor, hoping he could help me figure out why I had chronic pain in my right shoulder blade region.

Wow. That’s what I thought when I saw the x-rays of my spine. Wow. Holy cow. Good grief!

Back when I was a teenager I was diagnosed with scoliosis, but they watched it for a while and it never became more than “mild” scoliosis, so they sent us on our way and I sort of stopped thinking about it. Until the pain started several years later. When I was lying “flat” on my back, things just didn’t seem to be where they were supposed to be. I was definitely right! As we stood there looking at the x-rays, I thought to myself, hmmm… that doesn’t look like “mild” scoliosis to me! The chiropractor concurred. Mommyhood had taken its toll and made my curvy spine even curvier.

What does this have to do with birth, you’re asking?

A recent post by Rixa alerted me to something fascinating. It’s totally logical… one of those things you learn and wonder how you never thought of it before. Scoliosis and epidurals aren’t always compatible. Makes sense, huh? I really don’t know how it never occurred to me before.

So I just googled “epidural scoliosis,” and found quite a few stories from women with scoliosis on forums and Q&A sites. It seems to be hit or miss. Some women with scoliosis had no trouble, but they seem to be in the minority. Most of the women with scoliosis fell into one (or more) of these categories:

1) They forgot about their scoliosis until the anesthesiologist pointed it out. It took some time to place the epidural, but it worked fine.

2) Placing the epidural was extremely difficult. The anesthesiologist had to poke them multiple times, sometimes excessively, and they suffered back pain for days, weeks, or months after the birth.

3) The epidural only worked on one half of their body or only worked when they positioned their body a certain way. Most of these women went on to choose natural deliveries for subsequent children and raved about how much better they were compared to their complicated epidural experiences.

4) Their OB recommended meeting with the anesthesiologist in advance and bringing along x-rays to ensure everything would be smooth.

5) They were told an epidural would not be possible because of the severity of their scoliosis. They opted instead for a spinal, a c-section under general anesthesia, or a natural delivery.

I feel so fortunate that I didn’t have to learn these things the hard way. What if I had gone into my first birth expecting the epidural to save me from the agony? I think an unmedicated birth is so much more painful and difficult when it is unwanted and the mother is completely unprepared for it. It never occurred to me to mention my scoliosis to my OB or hospital nurse. I wonder how many women with scoliosis have miserable births because, like me, they didn’t realize it could impact their experiences.

I also discovered through my internet digging that scoliosis can affect fundal height measurements. One women was told she would give birth to a 10+ pound baby because she was measuring so “big.” Her child came out a 7 pounder. If you have scoliosis and your doc starts pressing for an induction or cesarean for a suspected “big baby,” keep this in mind. Spinal curvature just might be misrepresenting the size of your baby. When I imagine hours of bone-crunching pit-contractions followed by an epidural that only works on half of my body followed by months of back pain from the multiple insertion attempts… all for an unnecessary induction… Ugh. NO thanks.

Fascinating stuff.