Things were very different back in the 90s when Alan had his first back operation to release the pressure of a disc pressing on his sciatic nerve. In those days, treatment involved spending 6 weeks immobile on a hard mattress. When that didn’t work, he spent several more weeks in a hospital bed with a weight-bearing corset wrapped around his body. The thinking then was that this would stretch his spine and allow the discs to pop back into position! Not surprisingly, this didn’t work either, so Alan had to have a laminectomy where they cut away part of the disc to relieve the pressure on the nerve. This involved another two months off work.
Following the operation, Alan was eventually able to get back to work. Alan started swimming and running in an effort to keep mobile, but a few years later in 2002 the pain came back so intensely that he needed a second operation on his spine. This time the surgeon recommended that Alan try Pilates. So he joined his nearby gym and started Pilates classes. I was a newly-qualified Pilates teacher at the time, teaching regular mat classes at the gym Alan attended, and this is how we met.
Although the operation was a success, Alan was still feeling very stiff in his spine and his upper back felt twisted. In light of this, I recommended that Alan pause group classes and try some work on the Pilates studio equipment. I felt that feedback from the equipment, and personally tailored sessions would be the most helpful way forward.
During our first session I put Alan on the reformer. As he started to move on it for the first time, he became acutely aware of how his pelvis was not level. The feedback from the machine slowly allowed him to work on this. His posture improved dramatically and Alan learnt how to sit properly for the first time. With Alan’s often sedentary job, and the load on the spine from sitting, postural corrections were a significant part of his recovery. Alan discovered Pilates for back rehabilitation to be more effective than anything else he had tried.
Alan has continued his private sessions ever since, and nowadays he is one of my star pupils. The imbalance in his pelvis and the twist in his upper back have gone. He is now completely pain free and feels more flexible now at 63 than he was in his 30s.
Testament to his health and wellbeing, Alan maintains the incredibly busy role of Training Manager at a leading UK department store. He runs up to 10km, 3 times a week, cycles to work each day, and keeps up his weekly private pilates sessions with me at Shoreditch. When I think of Alan, I often think of this quote from Joseph Pilates:
“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young”
– Joseph Pilates
I think this sums up Alan and Pilates for back rehabilitation very well.