Tag Archives: pain

The man, the legend and his creation

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”

Do you buy that? Smart words you might think?  These are the words of Joseph Pilates, the creator of the Pilates method. Except back in  the 1900’s when he devised this fantastic system of movements, it was called “Contrology” (only later becoming Pilates after his death)

So let me just get this right… Pilates was created by a man?
How many men do you know these days who do Pilates or even less, how many teach it? Yet the system was originally created by a man and taught to hundreds of men. And not just “a” man, Joe was a man’s man!  A cigar smoking, beer loving, womanizing, man!

Joseph Pilates (1883-1967) always claimed that he was far ahead of his time with his system of exercises and he was right. In the early 1920’s he started his first studio in New York City, but today Pilates is known internationally as a key staple exercise and movement programme. Not a fad that came and went, not a wishy washy airy fairy exercise, not something that didn’t make you break a sweat, but a system of carefully controlled (hence the name Contrology) flowing movements designed to return you to life. It’s no wonder then that his (second) book in 1945 was named just this “Return to Life through Contrology”  (his first book was “Your Health”)
These days the Pilates method is taught and practiced by millions of smart cookies all over the world, who’ve cottoned on to the fact that this Pilates thing will make your back feel strong, your whole body feel toned, your vitality and energy increase, make you stand taller, walk and move easier….. basically it will make you feel fan dabby tastic!

Joe based his concepts for Pilates on having a balanced mind, body and spirit and took some of his inspiration from the early Greeks. He studied scientifically and experimentally into what upset the balance of these things.  Sleep, posture, stress, technology all played a part in his research.  You might not even know that much of Pilates work was outside of the actual exercise system we now know and love but that he also had his views on how we should sit on a chair, sleep in our bed, and built furniture to help us get this balance.
He believed in correct breathing being the basis of it all, as it is in life. Adding in body movement and mechanics, spinal flexibility and physical education.

Quite simply Pilates is a method of exercise designed to bring about balance in your body through strength and flexibility. If the body is restored to balance, it can move effortlessly without strain.  Most of the time, we are completely unaware of these stresses and strains being added to the body, causing us to be out of balance. Until it’s too late and the injury sets in to the point of letting us know about it. An ache or niggle here, later leading perhaps to more pains and a trip to the osteopath or doc.

Sure, doing Pilates will, as Joe wanted, return you to life and restore your imbalances once you have them. But imagine if you will a life where doing Pilates meant you didn’t get the imbalances in the first place?! That’s what’s it’s all about. It’s functional, basic movement. Strength training, flexibility training, body balancing.

You can (and should!) use it to help your sport improve, to get you out of back pain, to prepare your body for motherhood, to deal with the physical demands on a young developing body, or to managing the issues we face as we get older. It’s perfect for everyone; male and female alike.

In Pilates we refer to a “two way stretch” That’s one of the really cool things about it, you are always focusing. As one part of your body strengthens, the other side is stretching. Imagine in a gym, you’d have to use two machines for that. In Pilates, just the one exercise will do both! As your body becomes stronger, it also becomes longer = flexibility and strength! Winner!

We focus on the inner workings of the body, what some refer to as the “powerhouse” or “core.”
The deeper muscles of the body can’t be seen but can still be felt, and it’s these smaller postural muscles that help us with proper alignment whilst we go through our everyday movements. An imbalance in these muscles means we can’t work as efficiently, we are more likely to injure.  Time off work, time off the sports pitch, time off picking up the grandchildren for a cuddle. Do you want that?

But it doesn’t stop there! Pilates is a full body exercise. You use your brain to move your body so it’s great for the grey matter! You simply don’t have head space to think of the shopping when you’re doing Pilates, so a natural stress reliever.  We also use the limbs; our arms and legs, so you’ll be getting them stronger too.

In fact, Pilates as a class may help you in the studio, but just think of the all the benefits it gives your whole life outside the class room! For a full Pilates experience, you should also be using the equipment such as the “Reformer” to really condition the body, but it’s so easy to start with just you and a mat, anywhere, anytime.

And what’s not to like about that?! Just be sure your teacher knows a bit about what they are talking about!

For more information on Pilates, check out www.thepilatespod.co.uk

 

 

Are we a nation of pill poppers?

“The one thing that is taking up GP’s time is those arriving with back pain.”doctors waiting room

That was the view in the Cambridge News recently, reporting on how we are a nation obsessed with the control of pain and the taking of pain relief. We’ve all done it- reached for the headache tablets when our head is pounding and thanked those little white pills for sweet relief when it’s gone. But what happens the next day and the day after that when the same headache comes back?

A recent study from The Lancet journal has revealed that paracetamol is no better for back pain than placebo. With 26 million people suffering from back pain in the UK, that’s a pretty big number of people reaching for the bathroom cabinet supplies and keeping the pharmaceutical company rich!

Of course there are people who’s lives and conditions rely on medication, we’re not talking about those here naturally. But have we become reliant on the “quick fix” of those little tablets to get us through back, neck or headache pain on a daily basis?

Deal with the cause and not the symptom

From a previous life coping with back pain from a car accident, I know too well of the joy  you feel from re-occurring visits to the osteopath where your back is temporarily “fixed” only for it to spring back again a few days or weeks later and rely on that fixing again. Or to manage the pain with Tens machine and medication that was offered to me with the NHS. Do you want to spend your life like that? I got fed up relying on someone or something to “fix” me and started looking for ways to manage myself and that’s when the lightbulb moment happened.

lightbulb moment

Sure, that’s dealing with the symptoms, but what is the cause?!

In my case the symptoms were back and neck pain, spinal stiffness from being locked up on impact and muscular spasms. But the cause (obviously we know the car accident was the culprit) was that my spine was no longer in alignment, my neck was too far forward, my mid back twisted and locked up, my lower back and pelvis had been trying to cope with this imbalances and caused pain.
After the initial physio help and no help from the Tens machine, I invested in Self Management Tools, better known as Pilates!

It’s really important to get your spine checked out. A good osteopath or chiropractor won’t just look at the symptom (tight hamstrings, sore shoulders etc) but look at the whole spine and realign your spine and pelvis into it’s optimal position, allowing your muscles and joints around it to then work freely and without restrictions. But without some sort of “management tools” to help keep your spine and pelvis aligned, this trip back to the docs or osteoapth  can be a frequent (and expensive) reoccuring one!

For me, once a week doing Matwork lead to 3-4 times a week on both Mat and Reformer and guess what…

magic wand Hey presto, the magic happened!

I was moving my body again in all directions; forward flexion, side bend, rotation twist and backwards extension and feeling supple. I got stronger in my centre and core, my glutes starting working and the pain disappeared. My body started to help itself!

At first I didn’t realise it, but after a couple of weeks I began to think “hang on a minute, my back hasn’t been hurting like it usually does!” and then I realised what I’d been doing differently- Pilates!

But it’s not really magic is it, it’s just a bit of common sense.  Pilates isn’t a magic pill but it’s sensible, controlled movement. Pilates is exercise, exercise is movement, movement is what makes us feel better!

Move often, with control, stability and mobility. Stretch, strengthen, feel better!

And you can look forward to chucking those pills in the bin!

For more info on how Pilates can help you, see www.thepilatespod.co.uk

Pilates and Back Pain: Why it works

My last blog was about putting up with back pain and why that’s not a good idea. On a much more positive note lets have a look at why Pilates is so great for managing back pain. It goes without saying that any pain should be diagnosed by a medical professional reducing the chances of aggravating rather than relieving your discomfort.

Did your mother ever tell you to stand up straight? She was onto something here. She probably also told you to eat your vegetables too but now we might pay a nutritionist to advise us on superfoods!

Mother knows best
Mother knows best

Poor, slumped and collapsed postures standing and especially sitting place a tremendous amount of strain on our tissues. If muscles are held in a shortened position for a prolonged period other muscles will have to work overtime in order to support the weight of the surrounding structures. The body’s energy efficient response to this is to lay down extra collagen into the overworked muscle to make it more like a ligament, allowing it to support the same weight without expending much energy through prolonged muscular contraction. So rather than having well balanced muscles around a joint we have shortened and weakened muscles on one side versus overly long muscles that have lost their ability to contract as muscles fibres are replaced by collagen.

Hence we end up with a poor balance of muscular control around many joints. The resulting lack of stability around our sensitive joints  can result in poorly controlled movements with painful muscular spasms as the body quickly tries to gain control.

Muscle imbalances from sitting
Muscle imbalances from sitting

Pilates teaches you to lengthen your body in every possible direction. Even some of the starting positions for many exercises are hard work! This continual striving to find more space in your body is decompressing the joints and distributing the load of either movement or static held positions. In the Pilates mat exercises its just you and gravity. On the equipment the springs act as gravity for you to push and lengthen out against. A reformer is literally trying to squash and compress you giving you some feedback to lengthen out against. Thats why the equipment has the funky looking straps and handles so your limbs can experience this as well as your spine. Once you get back on the mat again after using the equipment your body knows what to do, as you reach a leg away for Single Leg Stretch you keep reaching into a now imaginary strap.

Reformer
Get a little length

Pilates brings your smaller supporting muscles to the party. Too often these small stabilisers get edged out of our movement patterns by the bigger movement producing muscles. Ever had to drive a car without power steering when you are used to having it? Thats what your body is doing when the stabilising muscles are neglected. It takes so much more effort to move the damn thing around! Advanced Pilates practitioners make the harder exercises look easy and flowing. They are still working hard but no part of the body is working harder than it has to.

Quality of movement is really important in Pilates. Once you start to find and use your stabilising muscles movement becomes much smoother and more controlled. Many of our stabilising muscles fine tune out movements but are also rich in nerve endings that send information back to our central nervous system. Our movements are then better calibrated, and of course smoother movement is far less likely to cause pain. Not having this feedback is like trying to negotiate the world with fogged up glasses.

One of the greatest gifts Pilates gives people with back pain is the ability to take back some control of their situation. Back pain is frightening and frustrating in equal measures with many chronic long term sufferers becoming depressed when it limits their previous level of activity. It’s a real privilege to work with this population as they learn how movement is going to help rather than hinder them.

No back pain
No back pain

Managing back pain is like being a tight rope walker

When you think of balance, you imagine the tightrope walker desperately trying not to fall off the rope, leaning one way and the other to achieve a good centre of gravity, alignment and control to be able to walk in a straight line unaided, unaltered and with ease.

Tightrope walker
Life’s about balance, your body is the same!

Your body needs this same ‘balance’ to perform daily tasks with the same ease but we’re not talking about whether you can stand on one leg kinda balance!

Whatever the reason of this imbalance, the cause nearly always ends up the same- imbalance of muscles. As a result of your actions, your muscles may end up either too tight (pulling on the body in one direction) or too weak (allowing a lack of support the other way) and wherever the affected area, there is always a knock on effect through the rest of the body. After all we are like a jigaw puzzle, all pieces of the body connecting together with muscle, ligament, fascia, tissue and skin. You can’t finish the jigsaw without all the pieces, they work together for the overall bigger picture.
What you feel today as a pain in the knee, may later be a pain in the back but you don’t know it, don’t appreciate it and don’t do anything about it until the Doc is telling you to improve your “core” or the physio is sticking their elbow in your butt to release tight muscles.
So if you’re reading this thinking “well I don’t have back pain” GREAT, we want to keep it that way!

Of course if the tight rope walker fell off the rope, he/she’d probably end up hurting herself, just the same as if we fell of a horse, it’d hurt right? We’d know why our back hurt, why we got bruises and the cause would be obvious.BUT for most of us we don’t necessarily put two and two together. As far as we’re concerned, we wake up one day and our back hurts, or we were putting our pants on and that’s it “pop.”

In most circumstances, it’s very unlikely that the very act of putting your pants on made your back go, I severely doubt you are wearing heavily armored pants with a huge weight-bearing effect on your body?!

But instead, the years of sitting at the desk staring at the screen has driven your head and beck forward and taken its toll on your neck and shoulders and lower back by compensation, or the 2 kids you’ve got gave you a lovely baby bump that pulled your pelvis forward and down causing excess strain on your back and the weakened deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles have never quite been the same or said hello again to help give your back support.

Even the professional football running up and down the pitch all day every day, fit as a fiddle heart and lungs wise, will be kicking the ball repetitively, twisting and turning and running into tackles, allowing for over developed exterior muscles (they look nice don’t they) but with imbalanced weaker inner muscles that give the body support.

So my charming readers, I’m not suggesting you rush out and join the circus and start brushing up on your balance act, but a little mind to what’s going on inside your body on a daily basis as a result of your normal daily tasks is worth the effort. We want strong, healthy bodies, not because for most of us we fancy ourselves as pin-up girls and Calvin Klein models, but because with a focus on inner “core” strengthening exercises, we can develop balance to our muscles an joints and therefore pick up our kids for a cuddle, do a spot of gardening or continue running, all without pain and aches.. or just be able to put our own knickers on… a basic human right surely?!

Large undies!
Pants on time

Until next time… 😉