Harrington Rods Removed — How a Reiki Treatment Led TOPS Founder Martha Carter to a New Path of Healing

This is Part 1 of a serial blog post.

When I was told that I had scoliosis and needed to have Harrington rod surgery at age 13, I was also told that I wouldn’t be allowed to dance anymore and that I shouldn’t do any rigorous exercise or yoga. It was 1974, and the relatively new surgical procedure was in its early years.

The doctors feared post-surgery injuries and wanted patients to be cautious, so for the first few weeks after surgery I stayed in hospital tied to a bed called the Stryker Frame, which inhibited any movement of the spine. Following that, I was wrapped in a plaster body cast and, still lying flat, was sent home via ambulance, where I was required to continue lying flat for several months. No sitting. No standing.  

My bedroom was upstairs, so my parents decided to convert the family den on the main floor into a temporary bedroom. This kept me part of the daily family action, and made it easier for them to care for me. Although it sounds lousy, I felt kind of special.

My family was loving and helpful. They gave me a bell to ring whenever I needed something like  food, or a bedpan, which my brother was never happy about, but he still helped when absolutely necessary. My father bought the family’s first colour TV (complete with a remote control!) and put it in the den for me to watch, which made my room a very popular place to hang out. The school board sent a private tutor for school, and I was allowed to write all my assignments in olive green felt pen, which was expressly forbidden. Considering everything, I look back on that year as a fairly positive experience.

But like so many teenagers, I didn’t really want to listen to my elders. A few years after the surgery, I started to take dance classes again. I had discovered contemporary dance, which allowed more freedom than the rigours of ballet, so I felt safe to continue. At first my body felt strange, and my back ached. But over time, I got stronger and my love of movement was greater than any aches and pains that I experienced.

However, by the time I was 30 years old, my back was bothering me all the time, and I often experienced debilitating muscle spasms. I needed help, but when I asked the surgeon, he told me I should simply stop dancing. Since I was not willing to do that, I started to consider trying some alternative treatments.

I had already explored massage and Pilates, but only a little bit—I generally didn’t understand how “alternative” therapies could help me. A friend suggested I try a Reiki massage. I didn’t know anything about Reiki, and the idea of “energy healing” was far outside my comprehension, but I knew I needed to try something.

The experience turned out to be a life-changing decision.

As I recounted in my show, TWiSTED, the therapist hovered her hands above my back and through her finely tuned senses and the resulting interaction of our energy fields, she made my rods vibrate. I could hardly believe it, but I sure felt it! She told me the rods were affecting my nervous system, and actually getting in the way of my movement potential. She explained that because my vertebrae were fused, I really didn’t need to have the rods in there anymore and that I should consider having my Harrington rods removed.

At first I thought she was crazy. But after I left her office, I felt completely different. That treatment was so powerful that it awakened a greater awareness of my own body. For weeks after, I could feel the metal in my back vibrating, as if my body were saying, “Get these out of here, get these out!” Several months later, I underwent surgery, and had my Harrington rods removed.

In some ways, it felt like the end of a long process of coming to terms with my scoliosis. In reality, it was just the beginning.

Having my rods removed launched me on a fascinating journey exploring the exercise and alternative healing therapies that have allowed me to keep dancing, and have shown me that the body’s innate intelligence to heal itself is endless.

Read Part 2 of Martha's journey to healing and rediscovering her body in this serial blog post here.

Disclaimer: This serial blog details my own personal experience related to scoliosis surgery in 1974 and Harrington rod removal in 1995. Please note that the times and treatments have changed, and not all patients have the same experience or results. Be sure to carefully consider your own surgical treatment decisions, given the current context, and with all information available. Visit our Back Care page for a review of medical and supportive care options.