When I was sixteen and in my final year of school, I slipped a disc in my back. Looking back now, I probably should have taken time off until it was fully healed, but being eager to go off to college, I pushed through the pain and continued going to school. Six months later, I had my first surgery. Then two months later, right before my final exams, I had a second, more significant surgery. I ended up doing my final exams in a room by myself, standing at a high teacher’s table. (I was unable to sit.)
Over the summer months I recovered from surgery, but being a teenager, I didn’t bother with the physiotherapy and exercises I needed to fully restrengthen my back. Instead, I developed avoidance techniques – ways to limit the way I moved my body and what activities I engaged in. Essentially, I stopped using a lot of my muscles.
This continued through my 20s and on into my 30s. Despite having been quite active and sporty as a kid, I avoided all strenuous activity. I cycled and walked (as forms of transport!) but did little else. My body got weaker and weaker, my muscles and joints tighter and tighter. Then, in my early 30s, I hurt my back again – this time much worse than before. I struggled to work for a few months, but the pain became so unbearable that I eventually had to take time off. I was prescribed a huge amount of drugs, but even those didn’t help. I could barely get out of bed and could only lie on my side – if I accidentally rolled onto my back (which I regularly did), I would wake up screaming in pain.
After six months of agony, I had a third surgery – this time, bigger and more serious than before. Recovery would be long. Six weeks after that operation, I went back to see my surgeon as I was still in so much pain. He told me that he hadn’t done the surgery to ease my pain – he had done it so I wouldn’t lose the power in my leg as a result of my trapped nerve. What?! So, what was I to do about my pain? He suggested physiotherapy. This time, I took my physiotherapy very seriously, going every single week and doing all my exercises. A year later, I was still in pain and at the end of my tether. Through tears, I asked my physiotherapist what I could do – and she suggested Pilates.
I found a Pilates class in my town and started that week. Four weeks later, my pain was almost completely gone. Four weeks. I couldn’t believe it. I had found the answer. That was in 2007. I have done Pilates ever since and thankfully have never had more than a slight twinge in my back. I am strong enough to do lots of strenuous activities and now live a very active and outdoorsy lifestyle. I can say with certainty that Pilates completely changed my life.