How I beat Back Pain with Authentic Pilates: Introduction

This is the first of a series of posts about how I have used authentic Pilates as a method for beating my back pain. I hope you’ll find some useful information from what I have to share about my experience so far. There are numerous videos, photos and written bits of information for you to check out, each week details the lessons…Enjoy!

An quick but important note before we start, from my Pilates teacher, Amy Kellow of Everybody Pilates:
Harry’s Pilates Programme has been developed using the authentic Pilates Method. His programme has been tailored to the specific requirements of his body at the time. Harry has found a successful means to managing his back pain with his progamme of exercises but these exercises may not be suitable for all back issues. Harry’s understanding of Pilates and his body have, over a short amount of time, gone beyond what I could expect of a beginner to Pilates and therefore his programme has developed from there accordingly.
If you are suffering with back problems I would always recommend working with a well qualified authentic/classical Pilates instructor who has had experience of working with back problems and always after you have sought medical attention first.
It has been a real pleasure working with Harry in his Pilates and back pain journey and I look forward to hearing his side of the experience in his blogs!

In November 2011, I began my spinal injury rehabilitation journey. Be sure to check the photos at the end of the post that show my body mechanics.

Here is the introduction to how it all happened…

November 2009 – March 2010 – The beginnings of my Parkour and Free-Running journey. I travel to Australia to train with the Sydney team, thinking I was in much better physical condition than I really was….

April 2010, New Zealand.- I’m dragging a plant pot in from the garden. BOOM. Something explodes in my back. I can’t move.

 August 2010 – I have heard from two different physiotherapists that I have done something to my back. (No shit!) They think it’s a disc injury. I fly home to the UK so that I will be able to receive treatment on the National Health Service, as I am a UK citizen.

July 2011 –  Almost one YEAR later (the joy of not being able to afford to go private) I have an MRI scan for my spine. Results show that I have a bulging disc at S1. Flexion (bending forwards) is the hardest thing for me. Extension (arching backwards) is the easiest. It was a difficult year – my back would ‘go’ whilst I was at work, when I put on my socks and even whilst having sex with my (then) girlfriend! All parts of my life were affected – I found myself having to adjust how I carried out the simplest of tasks, something that shocked me at first.

August 2011 –  Follow up appointment from my scan – I have been waiting a year and a half for NHS treatment. My physio then turns to me and says ‘We can’t treat you. Your case is too specific. The NHS treatment system is in place to treat patients who are coming out of operations.’

Theoretically, if I now wanted NHS treatment, I would have to undergo an operation. (This is actually not possible as my condition is not serious enough.) An operation would cut through healthy tissue as well but it would put me into the ‘post-op’ category.

My heart sinks into the floor. ‘We can’t treat you’ echoes through me, again and again.

Before I can scream in frustration, my analytical brain is already calculating my way out of this. My only choice? Spending my savings on private treatment.

The above is a super-condensed account of what it was like for me to go through a spinal injury. I can’t begin to type out the mental battles and wars that I have had to fight through, as a result of my body not being able to function like it used to. Not to mention how often my files were lost and appointments failed to take place, or the number of waiting lists I figured in. I can’t account for the tears of frustration that have rolled down my face every time I have felt ligaments in my back strain themselves. And words definitely do not describe just how much my patience has been tested in the last 18 months.

I have had to navigate this process of being injured, all the way to finding a solution, on my own. I could not find sufficient information on the internet without a diagnosis. I couldn’t receive efficient follow-up treatment from my country’s health service. And now that I feel that I have found the solution, I want to share it with you – just in case you’re beginning the journey that I started over a year and a half ago, and you’re not sure where to turn.

The positives from my journey so far

I understand the massive importance of having your body in the right condition if you are leading a very active lifestyle. Flexibility = #1, and close behind, strength and stability.

I am now in a blessed situation, believe it or not, that I can choose my rehab program.

 My Rehab Program

I have chosen to work with two individuals, of differing body-control disciplines.

One, Amy Kellow of EverybodyPilates, who currently runs her own, very successful Pilates studio in Portsmouth, UK, and Elaine Rutherford of OmStopYoga, who also runs her own Hatha Vinyasa Flow Yoga classes in Hampshire county, UK.

I have decided to spend three dedicated months towards fixing my bulging disc. This will comprise a weekly routine of: 1-2 private Pilates sessions; 1 Pilates mat-class session; and 1 private Yoga session, along with personal ‘homework’ sessions and, of course, progressing the craft that I love,Slacklining.

Pilates (paid classes) 2 – 2.5 hours a week

Yoga (paid class) 1 hour a week

Pilates (homework) 2.5 – 3 hours a week

Yoga (homework) 3-6 hours a week

Slacklining 6-12 hours a week

The actual amount of time I am spending on private tuition might not seem a lot. But Bear in mind that I am 22 years old, currently unemployed and have only £1,200 to cover my treatment.

Essentially, my goals with Pilates are:

  • To correct my everyday posture – realignment focus
  • To strengthen my core and increase core stability
  • To increase my bodily awareness of movement and muscular function

Yoga Goals:

  • To increase flexibility – achieve a full squat without rounding of the lower back
  • To increase my awareness of the range of motion my body has and, in time, to increase that range of motion.

Slacklining Goals:

  • To walk 150m line before Christmas 2011
  • To walk my first highline, completely, before Christmas.
  • To learn a variety of new tricks
  • To make various videos and gain interest/secure sponsorship from various companies by summer 2012.

My current spinal condition

Click on the first photo, Fig.1, and you will see a profile picture that shows how I stand ‘normally’ (being lazy). You can see my butt sticks out and there is a large arch in my lower back. You can also see my belly sticks out, too, indicated by the sharp angles of the red lines. My butt is sticking out and to my left. Either I developed this habit over time and it therefore contributed to my injury, or I developed this habit of standing as a result of my injury, to protect the area with the bulging disc.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is not a natural way of standing! However, until I was shown that this was habitual, I honestly wouldn’t have known at all! It has resulted in lots of lower-back ache – lots of weakened muscles in my core and lower back, too. Fig.2 shows a corrected posture from this position; the green lines indicating that I am now standing straight.

Fig. 3 shows how my hips swing out to my left. Again, not sure if this was a cause or an effect of the injury, but you can see it’s not good! Fig. 4 shows the corrected posture – I’m having to engage my right side of my core/abs and right glute quite strongly to hold this posture correctly.

Ideally, I will be able to hold Fig.2 and 4 as my natural postural position, ridding myself of my bad habits!

Be sure to check out the next post next week, entitled ‘Week 1‘ to see how my first Pilates class goes!


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