Caroline Freedman Personal Trainer & Author
Caroline is a Personal Trainer and TRX Sports Medicine Suspension Training exercise professional, as well as author of The Scoliosis Handbook of Safe and Effective Exercises Pre and Post Surgery. She talks to Sundried about her journey and more about scoliosis.
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is at its simplest an abnormal curvature of the spine in an ‘S’ shaped form. It visibly distorts the alignment of the body. In some people it is very minor and barely visible, in my case it was severe and crushing my heart and lungs. I have had three scoliosis surgeries.
When did you have your surgery and how many have you had?
I have had three scoliosis and rib correction surgeries:
- 1987 – aged 20
- 1989 – aged 23
- 2015 – aged 49
Spinal fusion (thoracic) T2–T11 Harrington rod entire length of spine.
Five ribs cut off on the right-hand side and used for bone grafts. Wore a brace for six months.
Harrington rod snapped in half – the result of my attempting a backbend from standing.
Obvious tip: Never do this - I was an idiot!
One fusion hadn’t quite taken and so that is where my rod snapped. My long rod was removed and two shorter rods inserted on each side of my thoracic spine. Another rib taken out. Wore a brace for six months.
My curve was the same and fused but my spine had decided to rotate and so I had ‘shark back’ (transverse processes – the little side bones of the spine – were sticking out). This meant that sitting on a high-back chair or lying on a flat surface was very uncomfortable. The skin was also super-sensitive as the metal from one rod was slightly protruding and very near the surface of my skin. I also had two lower ribs on my right-hand side sticking out, so when I tried to lie down or do abdominal crunches all the pressure and weight of my body was on those two ribs, making the skin sore.
I had walked around like this for years and finally – after chickening out and cancelling my surgeries twice – I became so fed up that I just went for it and took the final road to my correction.
One rod was removed and the other shaved at each end. It was too embedded in my spine to be removed. My bottom two ribs on the right-hand side were removed. (They won’t grow back, so I didn’t need to wear a brace. Yes, that’s seven ribs gone altogether.)
How did you feel after that surgery?
I woke up in the High Dependency Unit and couldn’t believe my luck – for the first time ever, I was lying flat and could actually feel the left side of my back. Wow, wow, wow. I can’t tell you how that moment felt. It wasn’t until after several months following my recovery that I realised just how uncomfortable I had been every day.
Tell us about your journey to fitness and how you became a Personal Trainer.
Exercise has been my saviour, both mentally and physically.
I became a personal trainer 24 years ago, encouraged by my then trainer the late Nicki Waterman. A bit of a crazy profession to choose you may think for someone with metal rods, screws, nuts and bolts in her back. I have never let that hold me back. Keeping your muscles strong, I believe, really improves the quality of life for anyone with spinal issues.
I had always exercised through my teens, but after surgery, once I was fully recovered and encouraged by my surgeon, physio and trainer I embarked on intensive workouts including lunges, squats, bet-arm pullovers, seated row and mini crunches. I became super strong and as a result my back felt great. If I don’t exercise for a couple of weeks, my back really feels it.
What would your advice be to someone starting back to exercise after an injury or surgery?
With my clients I operate what I call ‘EXERCISE ALLERGY AWARENESS’
- Start with one gentle exercise
- Start with low repetitions
- Wait for two to three days
If you feel no pain at all after two to three days, continue with the first exercise and add a second. Wait another two to three days. If you feel no pain at all, add a third exercise to your routine. Wait another two to three days If you feel no pain at all, add a fourth exercise, and so on ...
If you do feel pain, which at its maximum should be no more than gentle muscle pain, you will now be aware that a particular exercise is to be avoided – just like a food allergy.
How did you end up writing your book?
I was asked by Liz Bord, Senior Exercise Specialist at ASPIRE Leisure Centre, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital to write it for physios, personal trainers and patients as she was struggling to construct a training programme without full knowledge of what would be safe for someone after scoliosis surgery. Liz thought it would be a great idea as there is not another book like it.
Tell us about The Scoliosis Handbook
I wanted the book to be easy to follow. I address all levels of fitness for someone with scoliosis. There are illustrated exercises for strength training, flexibility, body-muscle balance and the cardiovascular component of fitness. These exercises have been tried and tested by me and my clients. There is a section of ‘Dos and Don’ts‘ ensuring that the client exercises in a way that is not only effective but safe. There is also a Tip section on lifestyle. This includes suggestions regarding clothing and footwear together with other practical matters – for example, positioning pillows when lying down to exercise and to sleep and which sports are beneficial and those which are better avoided.
Tell us one unusual fact about you.
I used to manage a girl band and am also a fashion stylist.
What do you like about Sundried and what is your favourite bit of our kit?
I love how flattering the kit is, especially the tops which, due to the simplicity of the designs and high quality fabrics, are super flattering on the back.
Where can you purchase The Scoliosis Handbook?
Waterstones, Amazon, Books Etc, Book Depository, Hammersmith Books. www.scoliosishandbook.com @scoliosishandbook
Published by: Hammersmith Books - www.hammersmithbooks.co.uk
Illustrated by: Dunelm Digital - www.dunelmdigital.co.uk
Photo by: Sam Pearce - www.square-image.co.uk