When Madeline Patton was diagnosed with scoliosis at 13 years old, the reality of her situation felt scary and overwhelming to the teen.
“When my doctor said I could have a health problem, I was freaking out because I had never had any experience like that,” Madeline recalled. “I had always been perfectly healthy.”
Other than some nagging back pain over the years, which she and her family simply chalked up to stress and fatigue from carrying a heavy backpack at school, Madeline had never faced anything beyond run-of-the-mill seasonal viruses.
Staring into the unknown exasperated the fear for Madeline and her family.
“When Madeline’s primary care physician first noticed the curvature in her spine, we really didn’t know anything about scoliosis other than it’s a big, scary word,” Madeline’s dad, Morgan Patton, shared. “The curves were not as extreme as they could be, but far more extreme than we were comfortable with, and of course, it was very scary because we always think the worst.”
Upon diagnosis, Madeline learned that the extent of her spine’s curve was not enough to warrant surgery, but if it were to advance, then surgical intervention would be probable.
“That was a big motivation to me because surgery sounds really scary,” Madeline said. “So, after I accepted that I did have scoliosis, I was like, ‘Well, I’m not just going to sit around and wait for something to happen, I am going to use this time as well as I possibly can.’”
With determination beyond her years, Madeline set out to defy the odds. Despite being told by her doctors that there was no chance for improvement to her condition, that the best she could possibly hope for was to keep it from getting worse, Madeline refused to accept that there was nothing she could do.
“It just didn’t make any sense to me,” she said, simply. “I felt like I should be able to make it at least a little bit better.”
Madeline reasoned that while the brace she would be required to wear at all times would keep her spine in place, it would do nothing to strengthen the muscles whose job it was to hold it there. Physical therapy, she was told, was optional and not something she needed to focus on. Madeline respectfully disagreed.
Although her initial physical therapy experience was not inspiring or promising, rather than give up, Madeline and Morgan decided to research their options and continue the journey.
“It wasn’t that the physical therapy wasn’t working, it was just that the therapist was so hurried that we didn’t have any time to ask questions … it felt like factory physical therapy, and it did not feel like it was tailored at all,” Morgan explained. While they considered their next steps, Morgan, a woodworker, built stall bars for Madeline to use at home, which he had learned were used extensively in scoliosis physical therapy. “I just wanted to do everything we could.”
As they continued their quest, Morgan’s wife – who had been going to Therapeutic Associates Southeast Portland near their home – suggested they find a Therapeutic Associates clinic for Madeline because she had been so pleased with the personalized care she’d always received.
Using the clinic locator on the Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy website, Morgan found P.A.C.E. – the North Portland clinic – and was extremely excited when he saw that at that time the facility not only featured a Motion Lab with a DIERS movement analysis system, but also has a physical therapist who is certified in scoliosis treatment.
“It was amazing to be able to get that in Portland … and then to have Lyndsay who specializes in children’s scoliosis – it’s not like you can get that just anywhere,” Morgan said.
Finding a partner in physical therapy.
When Lyndsay Provencio, PT, DPT, first met Madeline, she was struck by her maturity and motivation.
“We do a lot of education with patients on the first day and maybe one or two exercises, and then I always ask if they feel like maybe they can take on another,” Lyndsay explained. “Madeline was like, ‘I want another, I want more.’ There was obviously this determination in her for her to hear everyone tell her one thing and for her to say, ‘No. I’m not going to let that be the case.’”
There was a sense of relief, Morgan recalled, in being able to ask all of their questions and never feel rushed during their appointments at Therapeutic Associates. Beyond that, he said, it was refreshing to see his daughter finally feel not just comfortable but connected with someone on her care team.
For Madeline, that meant everything.
“Lyndsay was my only healthcare provider that actually ever understood me and was nice to me and treated me like a normal person,” Madeline confided. “Every visit she would talk about what was going on with me as a person, like in my life with my friends and family. She would always connect with me on that level instead of just purely about my scoliosis, which with all my other doctors it was like I wasn’t even there, they were just working on my back.”
That experience had been especially hard in the beginning, Madeline said.
“When I got diagnosed it was really hard for me to be forced to go to all these doctor appointments when I had never done anything like that. None of them ever sympathized with that change in my life. But Lyndsay cared about how I was feeling and asked how it was affecting me.”
Talking about it, Madeline added, was helpful.
“It was the one thing that I thought about every single day for a couple of years. I was worried it would get worse and was constantly faced with not knowing what was going to happen.”
In the beginning, Morgan said, the most pressing question they had – after repeatedly being told there was no hope – was whether or not Madeline’s spine curvature could be improved.
“Lyndsay said it was possible, that she could not say it would happen, but it was possible,” he said.
Madeline remembers being extra motivated by knowing Lyndsay believed in the possibility.
“We don’t want to make promises we can’t keep,” Lyndsay pointed out. “So, we educate our clients when it comes to scoliosis that we want more than anything to stabilize the curve as much as we can. Sometimes we get lucky, and we can get the curve to regress a bit, but our ultimate goal is always to stabilize the curve.”
Physical therapy treatment for scoliosis.
Beginning with an assessment utilizing the DIERS motion analysis system – which uses light to create 3D images of the spine and hips during movement, without exposure to radiation – combined with static x-rays and a hands-on exam, Lyndsay was able to work with Madeline to build a program of exercises customized to her unique case. This included not only scoliosis-specific exercises, but strengthening and stretching moves designed to address muscle dysfunction and imbalances, postural corrections and breath work.
The level to which Lyndsay tailored the prescribed exercises to his daughter, gave Morgan hope that physical therapy would make a real impact on her scoliosis.
Madeline’s willingness to do anything Lyndsay asked of her at any time, and her commitment to wearing her brace and doing her exercises religiously, boosted that hope even further. And while he says none of them would have guessed it would happen, the curve in Madeline’s spine improved dramatically.
“It’s almost all the way straight,” Morgan shared, relief, excitement and disbelief evident in his voice. “If she got diagnosed today, with it the way it is, they would say not to even worry about it.
Facing scoliosis with an unstoppable spirit.
Having worked with many clients with scoliosis, Lyndsay said, she gives all the credit to Madeline.
“She was a rock star,” Lyndsay said. “She did all the right things all the time. She did her exercises flawlessly — If she was going to spend her time doing her exercises, she wanted to make sure that they were right and that she was doing them right. She was super consistent with her exercises and even on trips would find ways to make them happen.
“I admire her spirit. She was in a situation where people had told her, ‘No,’ and she turned around and said, ‘Yes.’ So, hats off to her because none of it would have been possible if she didn’t just absolutely grind for two years.”
For Madeline, it was simple.
“I knew I was going to become an adult and that if I didn’t do something about my spine now, then my bones would mature and I would not be able to fix it later on,” she said. “It was kind of like I had to really crunch and fix it before it was too late.”
Now, she says, she’s relieved that there’s hope for her to lead a normal life without the challenge of living with scoliosis.
For Morgan, looking at his now 15-year-old daughter and knowing she’s close to being done growing, relief and hope replace what was once fear.
Plus, he said, physical therapy turned a very scary, negative thing – Madeline’s diagnosis – into a really positive thing – her ability to find joy in being fit and active.
“She has a habit now of really taking care of herself,” he said. “With physical therapy, Madeline was so focused, and she just took it and ran with it. She would do her exercises every day and then add yoga or core work. She’s in the best shape of the whole family now. She’s totally shredded – it’s crazy!”
A new beginning.
While Madeline is quick to express appreciation for all the support her friends, parents and siblings have given her throughout her journey, she is beyond grateful for Lyndsay and the team at Therapeutic Associates North Portland Physical Therapy.
“I don’t have to wear my brace anymore. I don’t have to see my doctors very often. I have always done my physical therapy exercises every day, but I don’t have to as much anymore. This was something I had to overcome, and I have. So now I am coasting and I’m just so happy I’ve overcome this piece of my life.”