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Developing an awareness platform for parents about scoliosis

Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of awareness about how to properly check one’s own child’s back.

Nurses at the Zaporizhzhia Children's Hospital tend to Milena, a 13 year-old girl hit by a bullet as she was evacuating from Mariupol with her family
Nurses at the Zaporizhzhia Children's Hospital tend to Milena, a 13 year-old girl hit by a bullet as she was evacuating from Mariupol with her family - Copyright AFP Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN
Nurses at the Zaporizhzhia Children's Hospital tend to Milena, a 13 year-old girl hit by a bullet as she was evacuating from Mariupol with her family - Copyright AFP Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN

Every year Scoliosis Awareness month is held in June with the aim of highlighting awareness about the condition.

To mark the events, Digital Journal heard from personal trainer, and healthcare specialist Carline Freedman.

Freedman is particularly focused on helping parents to identify the early signs of scoliosis (curved spine) before major surgery is required. Such major spinal surgery can cause huge upheaval and can totally change lives and Freedman hopes to both alleviate some of these fears with her article and help parents know what to look for.

According to Freedman: “Many people that I know discovered the curvature of their spine by mistake and most hadn’t even heard of the term ‘Scoliosis’.”

Reciting her own experiences, Freedman says: “I discovered my curve when I attended a close family friend’s Lotte Berke exercise class. My friend noticed while I was bent over how uneven my spine looked. I wasn’t sure what to make of this at the time and I looked to my mother, who would just tell me to stand up straight or not be so round shouldered.”

Freedman explains that her focus is with parents, as she states: “I’d like to discuss the importance that parents play in educating, understanding and helping a child manage their journey through scoliosis.”

Drawing on personal experience, Freedman says: “I’ve seen parents react with such panic that they’ve contacted surgeons in New York, Miami, Moscow, Istanbul, Tehran and Tel Aviv within a week of discovering his curves, to try to find a cure. I completely understand the fear that this discovery can cause and would love to spread the word and make this transition to a new lifestyle so much easier.”

In terms of explaining the condition, Freedman  says: “Idiopathic (of unknown cause) Scoliosis tends to develop at exactly the time at which children begin to cover their bodies up; bathing alone and becoming more body conscious. The fashion nowadays is big baggy clothing and with COVID bringing the number of our social interactions right down, parents have had far less of  an opportunity to spot any out of the ordinary happening with their kids bodies.”

This situation requires action, says Freedman: “With this in mind, we do not check our children’s backs.  There is so little awareness and yet it’s simple to spot if you know how to look.  Other countries include scoliosis checks at compulsory school medicals. Depending on age, if spotted at the right time and the curve is less than 35 degrees there are ways to possibly but not in every case prevent surgery.”

One reason for the inaction is education. Here Freedman opines: “Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of awareness about how to properly check one’s own child’s back. If the curve is less than 35 degrees and spotted early enough, it can be treated without surgery. Quite often once the curve hits 35 degrees the spine starts to fall with gravity like a tree and so scoliosis surgery becomes inevitable. So the clock is very much ticking.”

According to Freedman : “There are no formal health checks for spotting scoliosis in our children in the UK, but here are some checks I’d recommend you make as a parent”. These signs are:

1. Get your child to stand with their back to you and attempt to touch their toes.

2. Is the spine straight or the torso veering to one side?

3. Can you see virtual symmetry? 

4. Do shoulders appear uneven?

5. Are the centre of the ribs running down the centre of the body?

6. Is your child complaining of a pulling feeling across one side of the rib cage?

7. Are the hips balanced?

In terms of ‘what can we do to help those who have scoliosis?’, Freedman says: “There are exercise practitioners who claim to be able to straighten spines with movement, but it’s hard to endorse them while their research is not proven… but… can it hurt to try? Jury is still out on that one.  What is certain is that exercise is proven to help manage pain and I know that if I do not exercise I can certainly feel achy and that can be quite debilitating. I have been training scoliosis clients for 26 years including myself and any exercise is going to help in terms of strengthening the spinal muscles and muscles around the core.  There were no exercise guidelines available at all until I wrote The Scoliosis Handbook of Safe and Effective Exercises Pre and Post Surgery published by Hammersmith Health Books. Suitable for those with and without scoliosis surgery.”

She adds: “Anyone diagnosed with scoliosis should continue to exercise, while being very aware of one-sided movements to prevent muscle build up on one side of the body. E.g. Tennis, golf and avoiding certain housework including vacuuming and ironing (there has to be at least one upside to scoliosis).”

For further reference and advice contact @scoliosis_association_uk

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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