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The Scoliosis Handbook

Book review: The Scoliosis Handbook

Author: Caroline Freedman
Publisher: Hammersmith Health Books

Price from £6.99 (link to Hammersmith Books will open in a new browser window)

Reviewed by Frances Leckie

Curvature of the spine is not that uncommon

I knew very little about scoliosis when I picked up this book.

Having now read it, I am rather better informed about this condition, which affects 2 – 3 in 100 children – though the curvature of the spine is much more likely to progress in girls.

When it occurs, the normal shape of the spine is distorted from front to back, side to side, and rotated. The abnormal curve is commonly S shaped, and one shoulder is higher than the other, with a rib hump lifting the shoulder blade.

There is often a genetic component: parents with scoliosis should keep an eye on the straightness or otherwise of their children’s spines as they grow. If it is spotted early, then treatment is more effective.

But genetics is definitely not the only factor involved. Imbalance of growth hormones has also been implicated, as it affects bone density and cartilage development.

Equally, poor diet may be an element. Calcium and vitamin D are both required in sufficient quantities for strong bones, and iron is also necessary for bone formation. Protein from animal sources may be more effective for iron absorption in the gut – so teenagers following vegan or vegetarian diets could be at greater risk in this respect.

Focus on safe and effective exercise

The handbook is written by Caroline Freedman, who has built a successful career as a personal trainer despite – or maybe because of – her own scoliosis.

She briefly charts her own progress through three lots of surgery, and the role that exercise has played in managing the pain of her condition and keeping strong.

As surgery is so often a factor in the treatment of scoliosis, she looks at the range of exercises that can be undertaken either before or after.

Beforehand, she encourages people to exercise regularly, with few if any exercises out of bounds. The golden rule is always to listen to your body, as well as advice from your consultant and physiotherapist. If something hurts, stop or change position.

Fitness matters when it comes to surgery

Being really fit and strong before surgery is the best way of recovering quickly afterwards.

The post-surgery part of the book has quite a long list of gym equipment and moves that you should definitely not even contemplate using.

But this is followed by comprehensive information about those exercises you can do safely, and her “exercise allergy awareness” technique, which will give you the confidence to very gradually build your personal repertoire of exercises without painful consequences in the immediate post-surgery period.

From free weights to resistance exercise bands or the TRX System, Caroline Freedman explains the safe use of simple equipment and techniques for people with scoliosis, post surgery.

The guidance is great for the individual – and also for any personal trainers who have a client with scoliosis and want to know how they can direct their workouts to be both safe and effective.

Useful extras

Although billed as an exercise handbook, it finishes with a very useful A-Z of tips for living with scoliosis, gathered from a lifetime of doing just that. From clothes shopping to tennis playing, and how to arrange your bed and chair for comfort.

Having navigated her way through pregnancy with scoliosis, the author also has helpful advice for any women embarking on the same journey.

I found this practical handbook interesting and easy to read, despite not having a direct connection with the subject matter. Actually, I was struck by the thought that her post surgery exercises would also be beneficial for those many people with a “bad back” for whatever reason.

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Further reading and resources

Disability, fitness and exercise

Scoliosis Association UK provides support and information – Find out more on their website (external link will open in a new browser window)

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