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Starting School with a Hidden Illness

by Caroline Freedman(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 285 - March 2023


‘Starting School with a Hidden Illness’ – advice for helping parents whose children have scoliosis and other conditions

First day back to school is always exciting for children, students and parents. There is so much to organise, such as uniforms, sports kits and the dreaded shoe shop. This all adds to the nervous anticipation for parents and children. How do you prepare if your child has a hidden illness or has had surgery over the holidays?

Pexels Two Girls Studying in School

Photo Credit: by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels

A visible condition is easy to spot and the school will be used to dealing with broken arms and legs, asthma is understood but what if your child has a condition that is hidden? You won’t necessarily qualify for ‘special conditions or statementing’ but they may need some extra help.

Many parents ask me what they can do to prepare if their child has had surgery and is going back to school/university. My tips apply directly to children with Scoliosis and spinal conditions, but can also be applied to children with any condition.

It’s important to encourage children to discuss how they are feeling with their friends. Parents can research and find out what mental health help the school supplies and even the hospital where they had their surgery, to try to arrange a few therapy sessions.  In my experience children struggle to want to speak out about themselves, but it’s important to try and get them to anyway, as this type of help can offer them the tools they need to continue to cope with the emotional pain later in life.

Scoliosis Diagram

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine in an S shaped form


Scoliosis is one condition that affects three in every 1000 children.  It can cause backache and tiredness.  Recovery from Scoliosis surgery or any surgery is a tough road and people generally need both physical and a degree of emotional support. They may have to wear a back brace for a while and this can cause some discomfort while the spine and rib cage are being slowly manoeuvred into position. It is common for children with scoliosis to suffer from soreness and tiredness and it’s therefore important that people are informed so they can understand.

One of my clients is a teacher at a secondary school and she suggests getting the other pupils involved.  It’s good for them to learn to care for others and they can add it to their Personal Statements on a university application.  Many children will just not want to ask for any help as they may be so self-conscious and want to avoid bringing attention to themselves and so this is why being prepared, if you can, will make a difference.  The school can draw up a rota so that it is not left to one or two friends.

Hospital check-ups will more than likely be during school hours so inform the school that this may be the case.


Preparing the school with as much information as you can will also mentally help to relieve any anxiety you or your child may be feeling.  You don't want to be stressing all day about how they are coping and your child may also be mentally struggling with how they will negotiate a heavy work day, together with the chaos of a learning environment.

My client also suggests asking for your child to be excused from lessons a few minutes before the end of each session so that they avoid being pushed around in the rush to move from room to room, leaving time to use the toilet if required, as they will be slower to move around.

A full day may also be too much for the first week.  Rather than your child going home and missing vital work, ask if they can have a nap in the sick bay.  20 minutes may be all they need to get through the rest of the day.

Handling Recovery

 Unless there has been an emergency situation, many people opt for major surgery as soon as the term ends, to give the chance for optimum recovery. Notify the school or university as soon as you have a date for surgery to let them know what stage of recovery your child will be at.  With spinal surgery there is normally a minimum of 6 weeks before your child can return. 

Sport at school should be avoided and in the case of scoliosis contact sports like rugby and football could be limited for more than six months.  But with that, your child has the opportunity to catch up on missed work/get their homework done in school time so they can rest when they arrive home.

Getting The Right Equipment

Purchase the lightest bag you can find, go for comfort and although a rucksack is generally recommended for posture it may be more practical to carry this in the front if there is a fresh scar on the back as the skin could be quite sensitive.  If your child has to use crutches, carrying anything is obviously not an option.

If your child has had recent surgery it’s not going to be practical to carry heavy bags or laptops around, let alone a full sports kit and it might be daunting to think about how they are going to cope without some extra help and support.

Enquire if the school will provide an additional laptop for school use to avoid stacking up their bag with any weight.  Ask for duplicate books to be provided.  If your child has to move from room to room for lessons, request that either the teacher provides an extra book or ask a school friend to be responsible.

Most school chairs are wooden and square and should be ok to sit on but if they are not comfortable, carrying around a travel neck pillow or a donut cushion, which I always use to sit on or against, will help.

There is also support provided at Universities, so do inform the Student Accommodation they are staying in for their first year, once they are ready to return and also the Student Wellbeing department.  So much can be done on Zoom nowadays, so at least something good came out of the Pandemic! 

Above all remember this is just a temporary situation and in time your child will recover from this.  With all the support put in place your child (and you) will feel confident they are really cared for by people around them and feel safe in their environment during recovery.

Scoliosis Handbook

The Scoliosis Handbook of Safe and Effective Exercises Pre and Post Surgery

by Caroline Freedman

Published by: Hammersmith Books. 2020. £12.65 / $15.96   ISBN-13: 978-1781611661.    

Available from  and and Hammersmith Books.

Further Information

The Scoliosis Handbook by Caroline Freedman is published by Hammersmith Health books and is available from Amazon. Book Depository and most online book stores.



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About Caroline Freedman

Caroline Freedman is a London based Personal Trainer and TRX Sports Medicine Suspension Training exercise professional with 26 years’ experience of training clients.  She specialises in Spinal Health including Scoliosis.  Caroline has had three scoliosis and rib removal surgeries, aged 20, 22 and 48.  She was asked to write The Scoliosis Handbook of Safe and Effective Exercises Pre and Post Surgery by Liz Bord, Senior Exercise Specialist, Aspire Leisure Centre, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH), Stanmore UK to help guide people to understand which exercises are safe and which to avoid with the condition.  Caroline is also a health writer and is passionate about raising awareness of scoliosis.  She has two children, her daughter wore a brace at 15 which straightened her spine. Caroline may be contacted via Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK) Tel: 020 8964 1166;

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