How ACEs Cause Scoliosis We need to start acknowledging that childhood trauma causes scoliosis

I was 17 years when I got the official diagnosis that I had scoliosis. Official because my father had noticed something was amiss with my back 2 years earlier but thought I was doing it on purpose and tried to violently push me into shape. Yes, that was the home situation I had to contend with post my mother’s demise when I was 11 years.

How ACEs Cause Scoliosis
Most cases diagnosed as idiopathic scoliosis could have been caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Idiopathic Scoliosis

The medical term for my twisted spine was ‘Idiopathic Scoliosis’. A term used to define a condition that doctors claim has no known cause. This is sad because now at age 50 my back is getting straighter, instead of worse that too without major physical or medical intervention. And the real reason for this is finally now I feel safe, supported and loved.  No longer do I need to suppress my emotions.

Neuropharmacologist Dr. Candace Pert has stated that “Your body is your subconscious mind. Our physical body can be changed by the emotions we experience.

Louise Hay in her book ‘You Can Heal Your Body’ has detailed the causes of spinal misalignment for every vertebra of the spinal column. When I first read it at age 23, trying to find reasons for my distorted body, my hypothesis was validated. Oh, all those things happened to me. I had to deal with physical, emotional, sexual abuse. I was rejected, felt isolated, and unsupported. Scoliosis was a symptom of deeper issues in my life. And the only way to really heal this dis-ease was to honor my emotions and true self.

In my search for answers and studying the case histories of celebrities who developed scoliosis, there are common patterns in the emotional lives of those inflicted with scoliosis.

Loss of a loved one and grief suppression

In my case, my mother died when I was 11 years.  My hot-tempered father became even more violent and demanding. Instead of grieving and integrating my deep loss. I had to suppress and bottle-up my emotions. However, ‘bottling up.’ or suppressing, such feelings causes an important psychological process to become inhibited. This leads to both psychological and physical ill-health.

Similarly, the celebrities who developed scoliosis this one common pattern that emerged – loss through death or divorce.
Take the case of Isabella Rossellini who diagnosed with scoliosis when she 11 years, her parents divorced when she was 9,  her mother, the famous Ingrid Bergman had to begrudgingly accede to her father Rossellini’s willful demand for custody of the children.  That surely must have been devastating to a young girl.

Princess Eugenie diagnosed with scoliosis aged 12 though she says she was born with scoliosis which could hardly be true. Princess Eugenie was 2 years old when parents separated and her mother was photographed having her toes sucked by her “financial adviser. So one can understand the care the poor princess must have been receiving. Her parents divorced when she was 6 years. Further her mother Sarah claims how friends feared she would commit suicide after her break-up with Prince Andrew. Seriously, what emotional turmoil the poor princess had to undergo.

Kurt Cobain was 9 years old when his parents divorced. He later said that the divorce had a profound effect on his life, while his mother noted that his personality changed dramatically.

Becoming Hypersensitive

The emptiness and loss I felt after my mother’s death were like having a big hole in my self. Any slight, rebuke, rejection felt like salt being rubbed into my raw wounds.  At that time I felt like I was emotionally naked, nothing to cover and protect my wounded self.  That’s what emotional hurt does to us. Trauma or loss can immediately create a vast hole in the spirit,  the experience of “death by a thousand cuts,” or small soul punctures over time can be just as damaging and maybe more damning.

When a child experiences the loss of a pivotal figure in their lives, their dependency needs are not met. This creates a kind of emptiness insideThe need to be loved and cared for unfortunately doesn’t get met until it is too late.

Neuropharmacologist Dr. Candace Pert, author of  Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine has proved that  Your body is your subconscious mind. That our physical body is changed by our emotions.

According to her mother, Sarah Ferguson, Princess Eugenie had always been ‘slightly edgy, slightly needy‘ and even ‘a bit second daughter’ to her sister Princess Beatrice, 14, who is ‘more secure. How was she expected to feel secure if her mother had abandoned her to go partying? Kurt Cobain’s partner Courtney Love mentioned that he was more sensitive than most.

Dominating – Repressing Environment

In her book Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis Linda C. Wisniewski describes her childhood  “she let herself be silenced” she conveys the deep sadness of her childhood experience living with a verbally-abusive and emotionally-distant father, a long-suffering mother. She learns to silence herself at every juncture.  Further, she states “Recently, I’ve begun to think of scoliosis as a metaphor for my life. I’ve struggled to please teachers, employers, parents, boyfriends, husbands, twisting myself into someone I can’t be.”

She echoes my experience of having to constantly accommodate my father’s demands. Cutting a vegetable in a different way was enough for him to launch into a furious tirade.  If I did not comply with my grandmother’s requests she would give me the ‘cold treatment.

I was constantly on my toes trying to remain in line with the expectations of others. Being so desperate to be loved I literally bent backward to accommodate everyone else’s feelings except my own.

According to reports, Madonna is an old-school disciplinarian. She enforces strict rules for her brood. Thankfully, her ex-husband Guy Ritchie opposed this style when it came to their son Rocco and fought to keep him with him in the UK. According to him, Rocco lacked confidence growing up and thinks Madonna’s stern parental style is counterproductive. Or else he too could have ended up like his sister Lourdes, since she had no one to fight their dominating mother. And it would have been attributed to being genetic. Because it is not uncommon to have siblings developing scoliosis due to similar family history.

Feeling a lack of support or validation

The spine is the pillar of a human being it represents our strength, our support.  When people from our immediate environment physically, emotionally, or sexually abuse us when we are helpless children, little by little our self-esteem and security are destroyed.

 I remember feeling unbalanced and confused. My mind was in turmoil, filled with dread of being judged, criticized, and devalued. I felt resentment and hatred towards my family and particularly the cousin who was sexually abusing me quietly at night while putting on the appearance of not wanting me around in the day. I hated my brother for pushing me aside to spend time with this evil cousin.

Having to cope with so much deceit, wickedness directed towards me I felt I would go mad. Chinese doctors believe that the body of the child may take a blow to itself just to prevent himself from a mental and psychological breakdown. Scoliosis occurs to prevent a person from breaking down emotionally.

Fear of Growing Up

In his book Return to Nature: The Five Pillars of Healing, alternate healer Jon Burras explains the real reason for more adolescent girls developing scoliosis than boys. Girls go through more significant bodily changes, the puberty experience is present for everyone to see. Developing breasts are the cause of grief for many young girls. Dealing with sexual predators in one’s own family 

For me, my transformation meant inviting the gaze of a lecherous uncle, which was further aggravated by his wife accusing me of trying to seduce him. Which was totally false and evil. The feeling that I am bad, I am responsible. I know I tried to hide my breasts and  I’d pray “Dear God, please don’t let my breasts grow, I am in danger.”

Twisting my body and trying to force it to remain small was the only way to protect myself, an innocent 12-year old coping with the grief of a mother’s loss, an abusive father, an incestuous cousin, an aggressive brother and a generally hostile environment. 

We live in a culture where women’s bodies are often treated as objects to be glared at, it is no wonder why so many young girls are hesitant to go through this right of passage. As nature is pushing a girl up and out, her mind might want to hold her back and down. Her spine has to go somewhere so it has to bend due to natures’ forces pushing against it.

It can also manifest when a child realizes that his parents no longer cherish him now that he is grown since he is no longer little, it could get heightened if there is younger brother or sister who has overtaken his place in his parents’ affections.

The child does not want to grow, does not want to raise his shoulders, and forces the spine to bend somewhere between the two axes. The spine continues to grow but the child does not grow in height. “I don’t want to be an adult if this is the way it is”.

Had To Mature sooner

People with scoliosis had to mature sooner than a normal child. They have to bear responsibilities that don’t belong to their age. The load is too much for them to bear. Their need for love and care is thwarted with unfair demands and responsibilities. In my case, not only had I to become responsible for my own needs but also be constantly in the kitchen taking responsibility for the home.

Further, a wicked aunt would come and take me to her home to do her housework under the guise of feeling sorry for me plus I had to listen to her marital woes. Then I had to take care of my cousins whose mother thought her job was more important. So they were dumped onto my maternal grandmother who foisted them onto to me.

I now feel cheated about having been parentified as a child.  I was forced to grow up far too soon and to shoulder responsibilities which I was not emotionally mature enough to deal with.  Not only was my ‘childhood was stolen’ my contribution was neither acknowledged and validated. There are few feelings worse than having your whole family act like you just don’t count for anything and that you are one big nuisance.

Healing Scoliosis

Today, as my spine heals I know without a doubt that scoliosis is not caused by some unknown factor or genetics. It is caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences. Childhood trauma leads to lifelong chronic illness — so why isn’t the medical community helping patients?

However, why does one child develop scoliosis, while another develops some other auto-immune disease like lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia has to do with a person’s psychological make-up. The weak link snaps.  As survivors and parents, we need to be aware of the effect of  ACEs when raising our kids.

And yes, scoliosis can be healed, we need to take responsibility for our emotions and make changes to our life. However, the older a person is, and the longer the misalignment has been in place, the longer this process can take.  But it is never too late to start, change happens only by taking one step.

My next post “Healing My Scoliosis”

Image Source: Pixabay

Further Reading

The Root Cause of Idiopathic Scoliosis

How Emotional Stress Affects Your Spine!

ACES Science 101 (FAQs)

Scoliosis, the Mind, and Emotional Trauma

The Dao of Posture


Feelings Buried Alive Never Die by Karol Truman

The Emotion Code by Dr. Bradley Nelson

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3 years ago

Thanks so much for this. I’m a yoga teacher and PT and have made my life’s mission to stand up straight. I knew my childhood sucked and have begun my work w the subconscious via hypnosis and psychedelics. I too experienced push back from the reddit community when I scanned for others scoliotics who had aces. Your blog is it! Thanks for giving us hope! My Memoir forthcoming. Hugs!!

5 years ago

Wow, this is spot on! I never knew this, and read it with tears in my eyes. My spine is also getting straighter since the last 10 years. I’m 55 years old. Thank you for this eye-opener.

5 years ago

I was searching scientific studies of phisical and emotional child aduse as cause for scoliosis and found your blog. There was also an article in the Chicago Trib asking if Scoliosis is caused by trauma…

6 years ago

Dear Cheryl,

Thank you for leaving comments and a link to your incredible story on my blog. I hadn’t heard of scoliosis being linked to childhood trauma before and it makes just as much sense as any chronic illness or mental illness I have researched to date. Your metaphors are particularly meaningful ie “The Final Straw Broke The Camel’s Back,” and “I literally bent backward to accommodate everyone else’s feelings except my own.” Your examples are poignant as well, including the quote from Linda C. Wisniewski’s book “Recently, I’ve begun to think of scoliosis as a metaphor for my life. I’ve struggled to please teachers, employers, parents, boyfriends, husbands, twisting myself into someone I can’t be.”

I look forward to seeing your next post on how you are healing. I couldn’t find a place to sign up / subscribe to your blog although I have checked the box for future posts in this comment section. And maybe you’ll post another comment on my blog again, such as on the books and therapies for healing page (I used that link with my name when posting this comment) so others can learn from what you are doing too.


Reply to  Cheryl
6 years ago

‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.’ – that is brilliant. Yes, may we continue to be beacons and forces of good and support each other wherever and however we can. Congrats on good parenting and changing the legacy you grew up with so fully.