By Zoe Fairlamb
This blog post contains my story of how and why I became a Pilates teacher who specializes in low back pain. I’d like to share this so that you can learn about some of the strategies that I found most helpful in my journey overcoming back pain.
So here is my story of how I came to be a Pilates teacher – I hope that it helps you in some way.
When I was 18, I was in a horse riding accident where a horse fell on me. I remember lying on my back and thinking “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to move”. Luckily, I didn’t break anything but I started to have recurrent back pain for about 10 years.
My back pain would always flare up when I was stressed. One year at university before sitting exams my back was agony the whole week – sitting, lying down, walking would make it hurt. For years, there would be weeks where it was unbearably painful. There were days where I would be immobilized, unable to move from fear of making it worse.
I saw lots of physios, osteopaths, acupuncturists but no-one could explain to me what was wrong with me. Not knowing what was ‘wrong’ with my back left me with a lot of anxiety. Sessions with physios would usually make me feel better for a couple of days (but sometimes they actually made it worse). I remember being in such a state of fear thinking “what is wrong with me” and “am I ever going to get better?”
I just put up my back with for a number of years. Then it started to stop me from doing things. One trip with friends travelling around China, we went to visit the Shaolin monk temple. All my friends booked in to do a lesson with a Shaolin monk. I hadn’t booked on because I was worried that the lesson would make my back pain worse. I remember sitting on a rock, watching my friends have this once in a lifetime experience and I felt really left out. A thought went through my mind that “my body has let me down, maybe I’ll always be the one sitting on the sidelines”.
The year after that I started practicing Pilates, which was the first thing I found that really helped my back. During the class my pain would disappear, and as I continued it would disappear for a couple of days after.
Then I graduated university and life began to take over. I worked in office jobs, for startups, doing marketing and PR. In hindsight, I found working in an office quite stressful. Also, as someone who loves moving around, sitting in front of a computer all day was definitely not a good match for me! Office work definitely made my back pain flare up. So I decided to embark upon training as a Pilates teacher to help others get out of back pain.
I still personally had niggles within my back whilst I was training to be a Pilates teacher. It would often feel a bit stiff or tight, but with my Pilates training I now knew how to release it, which was incredibly empowering – I now had the tools to help myself! My back no longer stopped me from doing things but sometimes it would still feel uncomfortable…. It wasn’t until years later after having (unknowingly) taken a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to back pain that my back pain truly disappeared.
How I beat low back pain
Essentially, a three pronged approach helped me overcome low back pain. This involved strategies for my body, my mind, and my life in general. In terms of my body, I continued to practice Pilates and I started climbing as a hobby. This combination of strength and flexibility training really helped. I’m hypermobile so a base level of strength remains really important for me.
I also took up transcendental meditation to relieve stress and I learned about fascia, biomechanics and pain. This combination of reducing stress and education around pain was incredibly helpful in reducing pain and having techniques that empowered me to not feel anxious if I did have any pain occur.
Regarding overall lifestyle changes, I increased the amount of movement in my daily life, I transitioned into barefoot shoes, and I achieved a good work-life balance. These daily changes made a massive difference in how I felt and how my back felt too!
I wish that earlier on in my journey with back pain someone had explained strategies around reducing pain as it would have saved me years of pain, experimentation and missing out on things. It would have saved me a hell of a lot of time! I’m passionate about sharing what I learned in my own personal journey. I now spend my life training people’s bodies and minds out of back pain. It’s my personal mission to ensure that people are never the ones sitting on the sidelines, feeling left out.
I now live a very fulfilled, balanced, happy life. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and I trust my body’s ability to move. I climb, hike, cycle, and I’m never afraid to move or try new things. On a personal level, I am comfortable in who I am, I love my work, I have positive relationships, and a good work life balance.
Worrying about your back ‘going’ means you miss out on things. You worry about going to the pub with friends, in case too much sitting down hurts it; you might say no to a museum trip in case standing for too long aggravates the pain; it can distract you from your job – or worse, you have to miss days of work; you miss out on activities with friends; and you can’t play games with your family.
My vision is for no one to have to suffer unnecessarily with low back pain. We have never known more about back pain and how to treat it and yet more people are experiencing back pain than ever before. Ankor Pilates provides clear, simple and easy to implement education around pain. We also teach specialized classes that help you build strength and learn to trust your body’s ability to move again.
If you’re in pain, don’t panic, because you don’t need to be in pain forever. Read some of our client testimonials to hear how Pilates has helped them get out of back pain too.