“Pilates helped me surf after a spinal injury”


For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived an active life. Growing up on the Gold Coast, I was always surfing, doing gymnastics, dancing and playing sports. I was the kid who couldn’t sit still.

Everything changed in December 2017 when my then–boyfriend and I travelled to Canada to go surfing at Vancouver Island. We’d been surfing, running and skating every morning and this day didn’t appear any different. There was a bigger swell than usual and as I was out there a massive wave hit me and pulled me under.

I didn’t remember much about what happened next but when I washed up on the beach, I couldn’t feel anything from the waist down. I could move my head, but not my arms, legs or fingers.

The diagnosis

The following days in a local hospital were filled with a conga line of medical professionals. It was much the same when I was flown to Brisbane five days later. The damage was ‘non-specific’ —there was serious nerve damage and bones in my spine had been chipped, but there was nothing they could operate on.

There was one thing every doctor seemed to be sure about: that even though I’d relearn to walk, I’d never be able to get on a surfboard again or live an active lifestyle.

“You’ll have to change who you are,” they said.

Their words almost hurt more than the pain in my back, butI laughed and said to myself, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong’.

For six months, I was bedridden for at least 80 per cent of the time. In the first few weeks, I couldn’t move at all, but as the months rolled by, I could shuffle to the letterbox and eventually walk down the street. They sound like small acts, but each little excursion would feel like a marathon and then it would be straight back to bed.

I couldn’t work, I couldn’t socialise and after a few weeks my mental health began to suffer. To go from being an active girl to being bedridden with no end in sight, it felt like my life was over. I just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

If the mental grief was bad, the physical pain was even worse — particularly since nothing could be done to help me for the first four months but rest. Once doctors decided I had improved as much as I could with rest, I began osteopathy twice a week and physiotherapy once a week, spending hours relearning how to walk again. With so much bed rest, my muscles had begun to deteriorate and I was weak so it took some time to build up my strength once again.

The recovery

Nine months after the accident, I was browsing Facebook when I saw a post from my childhood dance teacher Tiffany Murphy, who is now the co-owner of Xtend Barre in Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast. With my background as a dancer, I knew Pilates would be good for me so I contacted her. I was thrilled when she said they could help me return to my normal, active self.

I started going in for classes at least four times a week and I was surprised to be feeling better in two or three weeks. Pilates is all about being in alignment so everything was natural poses, building a solid skeletal foundation and strengthening core muscles. Even though I was making small movements at first, within a few sessions I had enough strength to bend over and pick something up and I could go from sitting to standing — a move that was quite an ordeal a few weeks before.

I know they sound small, but to me they were massive – from a physical and a mental health perspective. Once I could do these things, I knew I was going to get better. Almost immediately, my future brightened and I snapped out of the grey funk I’d been in.

Getting back on the board

I went back to surfing a month or so after I started doing pilates. I’d worried I might develop a fear of getting back on the board, but as soon as I was out there it was like I’d never been away.

The ocean is my whole life and I’d been waiting to get back in it. When I did, I finally felt like the old me again. That day out on the board taught me I could conquer anything and since then, I’ve resumed life as it was before the accident. I surf every day, I have a job as a barista that keeps me on my feet and I do pilates when I have free time. I’m as active as I ever was and even though my injury is always going to be a part of my future, I manage the pain through simple exercises and stretches.

When I think back to the prognosis I was given after the accident, I get angry and frustrated. I can’t imagine how many people out there have been told something similar and had their lives destroyed. To them I say, do your research and reach out to your support network. There’s nothing to say you can’t find other paths to get back to who you once were. My path has been extraordinary — so much so that I’m going to train to become a pilates teacher. If I hadn’t done my own research, this story could have had a very different ending.

Pilates to the rescue

Here are four common health issues pilates can help to address and why it works,

1. Arthritis

A low-impact workout such as pilates will stretch and strengthen your muscles, decrease stiffness and help take pressure off sore joints. It can also increase your range of motion, strengthen your bones and improve your posture, which increases overall mobility. Since every move can be modified, it’s easy to adjust your pilates practice to suit your personal level of pain, and its focus on breathwork can also help manage stress and tension.

2. Tension headaches

Bad posture can cause a buildup of tension around the neck, upper back and shoulders, which sometimes results in a headache in the base of your skull or forehead. Since pilates helps correct poor posture by encouraging spinal alignment and addressing muscle weaknesses, it may be able to reduce the frequency of tension headaches.

3. Postnatal niggles

As well as increasing your energy levels, pilates can also address issues such as diastasis (a widening of the abdominal muscles), posture misalignment and incontinence thanks to its ability to strengthen your core and pelvic floor. Since it also increases blood flow and oxygenation, it may also assist recovery from a C-section (providing you’ve been given the all-clear from your GP).

4. Knee injuries

One of the main aims of pilates is to improve balance and body alignment, which is great news if you’ve injured your knee. Whether you’re recovering from surgery or have recently suffered an injury – like a damaged anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – pilates has been shown to improve muscle strength and function in the knee and address instability, which decreases your risk of future injury.



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