At 15 years old, Caroline Freedman’s life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with scoliosis; the severe curvature of the spine. 40 years on, Freedman reflects on how her diagnosis has changed the direction of her life.
Scoliosis is a condition whereby the spine twists either to the left or the right side of the body,forming an ’S’ shape. This can sometimes affect the position of the ribs, creating a hump on one side of the body. Not only can this condition cause chronic pain; but it can also place pressure on the heart, lungs and other organs; which, in some cases, can be life-threatening. Scoliosis affects 3-4 children (from the ages of 10-15 onwards) in every thousand, and 80% of sufferers are female. Severe scoliosis is not only damaging to physical health, but can also deeply affect the confidence and mental health of the sufferer. The condition is diagnosed via an examination, X-ray, and/or a CT scan and MRI. Treatment can include wearing a spinal brace to help straighten the spine or, in more severe cases; spinal fusion surgery. Exercise, physiotherapy, and massage are often used to alleviate pain before and after surgery.
After an exercise instructor spotted that something wasn’t quite right with the shape of her back, a fifteen year-old Freedman was whisked to the GP and diagnosed with scoliosis. The curvature worsened over time, necessitating surgery when Freedman turned 20, to prevent her curved spine from crushing her heart and lungs. Since then, Freedman’s condition has required two further surgeries to help straighten her spine and correct the placement of her ribs. Her doctors advised her to exercise regularly to keep her muscles as strong as possible, and she now reflects on the ways in which this advice has changed her life. Freedman is now one of the UK’s foremost experts on exercise for scoliosis patients, and realises that exercise has been her saviour, both mentally and physically. With 24 years’ experience as a personal trainer, Freedman now advises clients on how to exercise safely before and after surgery, showing her clients how to adapt their movement when performing exercises and stretches; helping them to alleviate their pain, build strength, and improve posture. Perhaps even more importantly, Freedman teaches other personal trainers how to spot the tell-tale signs of scoliosis in their clients, and how to safely and effectively train clients with the condition. As exercise is so essential to sufferers of this condition, it is important that they have clear and comprehensive guidance on how to move safely. After having spinal fusion therapy, certain exercises can place undue strain on the vertebrae, and trainers must always be aware of which types of exercises are safe and helpful.
As her career has progressed, Freedman has become one of the top advisers for trainers with clients who have undergone spinal fusion surgery. Liz Bord, Senior Exercise Specialist at ASPIRE Leisure Centre, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital is one of those trainers. Struggling to find any guidelines on how to train her scoliosis clients properly, she sought Freedman out and suggested that she write a book and design a training programme for physiotherapists, personal trainers and patients. The result was Freedman’s ‘Scoliosis Handbook’ which now helps patients and trainers alike to understand how to create scoliosis-friendly exercise programmes. With her wealth of experience, Freedman can offer all kinds of lifestyle advice to sufferers, including ideal sleep positions, how to sit, and which sports to avoid. With her experience as a celebrity fashion stylist, she even offers her clients tips on comfortable and flattering fashion choices.
As well as her handbook and her one-to-one work with clients from her studio in North London, Freedman also offers CPD courses, which can now be attended via Zoom or as an online course, available to take at any time. The courses build students’ knowledge of scoliosis as well as their understanding of which types of exercises are suitable for sufferers, and which to avoid.
Details of the Scoliosis and Spinal Fusion CPD Course Live Zoom (one day) and Online Course can be found on the CIMSPA website and booked on The Scoliosis Handbook website. https://www.scoliosishandbook.com
Caroline Freedman, Personal Trainer and author of The Scoliosis Handbook of safe and effective exercises pre and post-surgery.
Simple methods to check for scoliosis:
Bend forward and touch toes, looking to see if the back is symmetrical or if one side looks more raised than the other.
Look to see if one shoulder or hip is sticking out or if the waist is more pronounced on one side
Do T-shirts or sweaters look wonky?
Complaints of any pain or a pulling sensation