At 15 years old, Caroline Freedman, who is a personal trainer and TRX Sports Medicine Suspension Training professional, was diagnosed with severe scoliosis – a condition where the spines twists and curves to the side.
It has led to a lifelong journey through surgery and therapeutic exercise and Caroline is now on a mission to raise awareness and help others identify and understand the condition.
She has recently penned The Scoliosis Handbook of Safe and Effective Exercises Pre and Post Surgery for personal trainers and physiotherapists and is urging parents to check both their and their child’s back for curvature of the spine ahead of Scoliosis Awareness Month in June.
“I am often contacted by anxious parents of children who have recently been diagnosed with scoliosis,” says Caroline.
“What many of them have in common is that before hearing this diagnosis they have never heard of the condition or its symptoms.
“Awareness of this condition is essential in allowing it to be diagnosed in good time, which I why I think it is so important for me and others like me to share our stories.
“Scoliosis is an S-shaped double curvature of the spine. Although many people know very little about it, it is by no means a rare condition. In fact, 3 to 4 children in every 1000 require specialist treatment for the condition, 80% of whom are girls.
“The majority of cases are idiopathic (of unknown cause) with the condition starting at the onset of puberty.
“Like many of the mothers who I hear from today, my mother had never heard of scoliosis before the fateful day of my diagnosis. I often wonder how life might be different if my symptoms had been noticed earlier.
“If caught early, it is sometimes possible to correct scoliosis with the use of a back brace and the implementation of proper exercises.
“Without knowing what to look out for, however, it is very difficult to spot the early signs of spine curvature.
“My S-shaped spine was discovered at the age of 15 while I was taking part in an exercise class. At this point, the curves in my spine were already too severe for me to be able to consider the option of wearing a corrective brace.
“My ribs had buckled and twisted giving me a large rib hump.
“My diagnosis was a huge turning point in my life, and led to years of doctor’s appointments and hospital visits. When I turned 20, I had my first spinal correction surgery in order to prevent my curved spine from crushing my heart and lungs.
“Since then, I have had two further surgeries to help straighten my spine and correct the placement of my ribs.
“Exercise is an essential element in managing scoliosis at all stages. Keeping the core muscles strong (including the muscles of the back, chest and abs) helps to alleviate pain both before and after surgery.
“The simplest way to check yourself or your child for scoliosis is to bend over to touch the toes and observe the symmetry of the spine.”
Signs of scoliosis as advised by the NHS include:
• A visibly curved spine
• Leaning to one side
• Uneven shoulders
• One shoulder or hip sticking out
If you think you or your child may be displaying signs of scoliosis, visit your GP who can refer you for further diagnosis, which includes the use of X-rays, CT scans and MRI.
“Whilst countries such as the UK are carrying out research into the condition, many other countries are very behind with treating scoliosis, especially with healthcare support including awareness and diagnosis,” says Caroline.
“In some communities, the condition is stigmatised to the extent that families are too embarrassed to seek medical help when their children start to display abnormalities.
“Without treatment, the condition worsens over time, so many sufferers eventually develop a severe curve which affects the heart and lungs, creates physical discomfort, and can also lead to issues surrounding body image and mental health.
“Although the idea of surgery can be daunting for many, here in the UK we are fortunate to benefit from the work of some incredibly talented surgeons whose work has resulted in some amazing spinal corrections.
“The operation that I and many other sufferers have undergone is called spinal fusion surgery. It involves straightening the spine and attaching metal rods, keeping it fixed in its new straightened position.
“Throughout my treatment, I was advised by doctors and surgeons to train regularly and strengthen my muscles, and I truly believe that exercise has been my saviour, and has helped immeasurably with my recovery.
“With proper care and treatment, and with the support of my family and friends, I feel lucky to have been able to lead a full and normal life, raise my wonderfu children, and follow a career path that I am passionate about.
“If you spot the signs of scoliosis in yourself or your child, don’t delay in seeking medical help.”
Scoliosis Awareness Day is on 26 June, 2021. Find out more at The Scoliosis Association UK
Photos by: Sam Pearce – www.square-image.co.uk