Can I heal my prolapse without surgery?

Are suffering pelvic organ prolapse (POP)? This is a relatively common experience for postpartum women and women as they get older. According to the Continence Foundation of Australia over half of all women who have had a child have some level of POP. In the USA 58% of women who opt to have surgery for POP will experience a recurrence after surgery! (Whiteside and Weber, 2004).

There are many different types and causes of prolapse and this question will always need to be answered on a case by case basis but I am here to say that it is possible to improve a prolapse with breathing techniques and gentle exercise.

What is pelvic organ prolapse?

The pelvic organs, the bladder, uterus, large intestine and rectum are held in place by fascia muscles and ligaments. Without proper support due to weak, tight, torn or damaged fascia, ligaments or muscles, pelvic organs can bulge down into the vagina or rectum. That is a prolapse. For more information on symptoms, risk factors and diagnosis check out this Queensland Health webpage.

Causes of pelvic organ prolapse

There are 2 main causes of pelvic organ prolapse.

  1. Too much pressure in the abdominal cavity (this is why surgery often fails)
  2. Tearing and stretching from delivery

In both instances women can achieve a high resolution of symptoms from specific movement and breathing.

Too much pressure – what does that mean?

I talk a lot in my classes about managing pressure in your torso. Why? Because our breath acts like a pump that creates pressure in our torso. This pressure helps to keep our bones safe from impact. If the muscles in our torso are not strong enough or moving in coordination then either there is not enough pressure in the torso or there is too much pressure being pushed down onto the pelvic floor.

There is a risk that any abdominal workout will increase the pressure down on the pelvic floor too much. This is why a focus on breathing correctly to recruit the abdominal muscles properly and in the right order is so important, to strengthen rather than weaken or damage the pelvic floor muscles.

This picture shows some of the issues of too much pressure down:

Prolapse and Pilates

What to do

  1. See a pelvic floor Physical Therapist or OBGYN who can give you a clear diagnosis and assess the condition of your pelvic floor muscles.
  2. If you have done a lot of kegel exercises your pelvic floor maybe very tight. Check whether you can relax your pelvic floor (this helps the diaphragm and lungs descend)
  3. Pay attention to your posture and alignment
  4. Pay attention to your breath
  5. Work with a Pelvic floor corrective exercise specialist (like me!)

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, an ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

Tight neck and shoulders? Some quick and slow fixes for you….

Neck pain can really destroy your day. It can start with waking up with a little tightness on one side and through the day can progress to being completely rigid. Or you may feel fine in the morning and after sitting at your computer for a few hours you can feel the tightness creep up. Neck and shoulder tightness can cause headaches, fatigue and shallow breathing leading to anxiety. A vicious cycle can occur where the neck and shoulder tightness lock down the diaphragm and lungs which limits breath capacity, shallow breathing stimulates the ‘fight or flight’ response in the brain and anxiety increases. So what can you do to break this cycle?

Causes of neck pain

Common causes of neck pain include sleeping in as strange position and general posture through the day.

If you wake up with a sore neck it is likely that you pillow is not right for you neck. So ditch your pillow and go and find one that is designed to provide optimal support for you neck, head and shoulders. This can be a game changer so don’t delay.

If you get a sore neck through the day or ‘always have a sore neck’ it is likely this is to do with you general posture, particularly your upper back strength. Below is a great picture of the relationship between the upper back and the head.

Neck pain and Pilates
Neck pain and posture

This image shows the additional weight that is carried by the neck when the head is held forward of the body. And to translate 12 pounds is nearly 6 kilos. So if you have neck pain or shoulder tightness regularly it is likely that your posture is either like the figure in the middle or the one on the right of the picture. So what to do?

Slow fix – big picture

As a movement therapist and Pilates teacher, I look at the whole body from the feet up to help clients change their posture. I program specific exercises to strengthen some things and lengthen others. See the image below:

neck pain and Pilates
Long term plan to improve posture and reduce neck pain

Quick fix – what can I do today?

Well there is no substitute for a long term strategy that looks at the causes but there are some key exercises that can really help to get you on the right track.

Videos coming soon

The head hover

Pilates for neck pain
Head hover

The pec stretch

The upper back release

The scalene stretch

Pilates for neck pain
Scalene stretch

There are many more exercises that you can learn and enjoy in Pilates class with me online or in Byron, Lennox Head or Ballina.

1 Pilates tip for less pain and better posture

Less pain and better posture are great reasons to do Pilates. A regular Pilates practice can work wonders for these issues, depending on the causes of your regular pain. Improving your posture will bring you great benefits like improving the efficiency of your breath, reducing lower back, neck and shoulder pain and even improving the way you feel about yourself and life!

So what is the one thing that is going to make a difference to your pain and improve your posture? Taking movements that you learn in your Pilates class and use them everyday. Find the moments in your day when you can practice the concepts you are learn in your class. That’s how you change the way way you stand and move. Bring the postures and movements into your everyday life.

Here are some examples of regular movements we can use to improve your posture and reduce pain:

  1. Bending to pick something up: whenever you bend down to pick something up get your feet to hip width apart, hips over your ankles. Bring your ribs over your hips and your spine long (including your head and neck). Then fold at your hips, reach your tail bone back and keep your spine long (no bending in your spine).
Two images of a woman bending to pick something up

2. Standing waiting for the kettle to boil: notice your posture. Are your knees locked tight and your hips pushed forward? Are your ribs sinking down and your pelvic tucked? Take the moment to find your neutral spine, shift your hips over your ankles, ribs over your hips, open your shoulders wide and imagine your a string out the top of your head so you lengthen the back of your neck. Use your breath and abdominals to stabilise your spine.

Two images of a woman waiting for a kettle to boil

3. Sitting down in a chair: Feet hip width apart, hips over ankles. Bring your ribs over your hips and your spine long (including your head and neck). Fold at your hips, reach your tail bone back and down to the chair and keep your spine long. Use your exhale to go down as your stabilise your spine with your abdominals.

Two images of woman sitting down to a chair

4. Reaching up to get something: Align your hips over ankles, ribs over hips. As you reach up draw the front of your ribs down (with your exhale) so you are not flaring your ribs and loading into your lower back.

Two images of a woman reaching up

The way we work with the breath in a Move to Nurture mat class will teach you these movements in detail. You can then use and remember the feeling of the moves in your daily life. Practicing these postures in your everyday movements will improve your posture and reduce pain and recurring injuries. It will also help with pelvic floor function and healing diastisis recti.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, an ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

Four ways doing Pilates can reduce your anxiety

Anxiety getting you down? Is your breath high in your ribs because you can’t really drop your breath down into your belly? You may feel extremely tight in your shoulders and neck or you may feel weak in your body and stuck in your thoughts. Have you had a panic attack where you suffer shortness of breath and foreboding thoughts? Experiencing anxiety regularly can be debilitating and have a negative impact on your life. A gentle Pilates practice can help with anxiety management. Here are 4 ways it can be deeply beneficial if you suffer regular anxiety.

The power of breath for anxiety

Pilates is a movement system that is based on your breath. During a Move to Nurture Pilates class your breath will deepen and slow down. As a result this will stimulate the Vagus nerve to switch our bodies to ‘rest and digest’ mode.

The focus on the breath involves deep diaphragmatic breathing. Sometimes people have a very tight diaphragm (muscle under the ribs responsible for breath) which leads to a shallow breathing pattern. Specific Pilates exercise can help release your diaphragm to help your breath get deeper into your lungs. This in turn helps to slow the breath and the heart rate down, supporting your body to access its parasympathetic nervous system (resting state).

Mind-body connection

The act of doing Pilates develops mind-body connection. Using the breath and coordinated movement of the limbs Pilates requires concentration. This engagement of the mind ensures you are using the right muscles but also brings you into the present moment with your body and your breath.

Brain chemistry to reduce anxiety

By slowing down the breath (1) and developing your mind body connection and presence (3) Pilates helps to shift your brain chemistry. The result of this is reducing cortisol levels and boosting dopamine levels. This chemical shift is important for allowing the body and the brain to relax.

Community

Linking you to a wellness community. It doesn’t matter if you go to a group mat class or a private equipment session, or even an online mat class. Doing Pilates will link you to others who are taking steps to live well, manage their stress and connect with their own bodies. Connecting with others who are engaged in a self-care practice creates a community for you. Your community can then support you to turn up and do the work so your anxiety will reduce and become more manageable.

If you suffer from anxiety make sure you seek support. Beyond Blue has a great self assessment tool here and lots of other resources too. Headspace is a great meditation website and app to check out and there are many others. Incorporating movement into your meditation with a practice like Pilates will give you all the benefits of exercise as well.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

What is Pilates? And what you need to know

If you are wondering “What is Pilates?” then I am excited cos I get to tell you! You may think it’s an infomercial workout or something Meagan Markel and other rich and famous people get to do. Well, Pilates is a movement system for everybody. Young, old, fat, thin, tall, short. No matter what your fitness level there is something you can do and something to challenge you just enough. Pilates was invented in the 1920’s by a guy called Joseph Pilates.

Origins

Joseph Pilates studied many other movement modalities such as yoga and martial arts before he came up with the movement system we now call Pilates. He called it Contrology – the process of mastering control of ones own body. Joseph Pilates was an asthmatic and saw many doctors to improve his breathing. At the heart of Pilates is the mechanics of the breath. Pilates as a movement system uses the mechanics of the breath to organise and strengthen the whole body.

What kind of moves are in Pilates?

Joseph Pilates originally designed the mat series. These are 36 exercises done on a mat on the floor. This series is challenging for beginners and so Joseph Pilates invented exercise equipment using springs to strengthen people to do the mat series. Teachers that studied with Joseph Pilates also came up with pre-Pilates exercises that are done on a mat to help people get stronger for the Pilates mat series.

A lot of pre-Pilates and Pilates is done lying down in a supine position (lying on your back). Having the spine on the floor provides good feedback to monitor the position of the spine and pelvis as you lift your arms and legs in specific patterns.

Pilates should be based on your own breath, so the pace of your movements should match the pace of your own breath. Your awareness and connection to your breath while doing Pilates is very important to get the most out of the practice.

There are a few specific spine shapes or positions for the spine that reoccur in many Pilates exercises. If you have spinal injuries it is best to work with a Diploma Qualified Pilates teacher to determine any modifications you may need.

What’s special about Pilates?

Pilates works the whole body, however there are some muscle groups that really get to shine in Pilates. These are:

  • Your seat – where your thighs meet your bottom
  • Your upper back – Anterior Serratis and triceps

These areas of our bodies are often forgotten by other workouts. Gym, cycling, running and even swimming can favour the hip flexors and quadriceps, the pecs and biceps. Pilates, when practiced properly aims to engage the back of the body as much as the front.

Pilates is an all body movement practice. If you learn the exercises and practice them in different sequences Pilates will deliver you the benefits listed below.

What is not Pilates?

There are a lot of things out there that are called Pilates that are not in fact Pilates. Doing lots of really hard abdominal work is not Pilates. Doing a boot camp work out with a couple of Pilates exercises thrown in is not Pilates. These things are fine to do but they will not give you the benefits that a Pilates practice will.

Benefits of Pilates

  • less tightness in the hips and shoulders
  • more support for lower back stability
  • strength and tone for deep abdominal muscles
  • mobility of the ribs and improved breathing

These benefits lead to real life, everyday wins like:

  • improving posture
  • reducing lower back pain
  • reducing neck and shoulder pain
  • improving balance
  • reducing the risk of slips, trips and falls
  • improved pelvic floor health and bladder control
  • improved core strength

I could go on and on but you get the picture. Pilates is a full body work out that aims to balance the front of the body with the back. The genius of it is Pilates, when taught properly, targets the areas of our body that suffer from our lifestyle of too much sitting and too much computer time. Building on the foundation of our own breath, Pilates holds wisdom for our bodies every time we practice.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

Get help to sleep with these 5 moves

Get help to sleep. One of the most nurturing things you can do for yourself is sleep. Sometimes that is easier said than done. Particularly if you are working from home, you might be caring for kids and making up hours at night? You may have kids waking in the night? Checking the news on your phone right before your sleep?

If you are in the Byron Bay, Ballina and Lennox Head areas day light savings will kick in soon. This means that you will lose an hour in the evening. So right now is a great time to give yourself earlier nights, get help to sleep and get your body clock prepared for this time change.

1 Stay away from screens at least 30 mins before bed

It’s proven that the blue light from screens confuses our circadian rhythms and can make it difficult for our brains to sleep. Be sure to unplug at least 30 mins before bed to give your body and mind a break from this stimulation.

2 Drink a chamomile tea 30 mins before bed

A simple ritual like a herbal tea can send messages to our brain that is time to start switching off for the day. You could pair this with listening to a calming piece of music for a delightful pre-bedtime ritual.

3 Practice a few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing

Allowing and encouraging your breath deeper into you lungs can slow down your heart rate and re-oxygenate your body. sit with hand around the side of your rib cage and as you breath in imagine your breath is filling up the front, sides and back of your torso. If you do this for a few minutes you will notice your muscles relax to enable this deep diaphragmatic breathing

4 Lie on your back with your legs up the wall

Lying on you back with your legs up the wall is a great way to clam the body. It helps the return of blood to the heart where it get re-oxygenated. You can do this in bed, it is important to get comfortable. Get your bottom close to the wall and swing your legs up. Focus on a heavy tail bone lying on the bed or the floor and relax.

5 Reflect on your gratitude for the day

Often when I turn the light off I think of how grateful I am for the day I have had. Even if it hasn’t been the best day I can usually find little things to be grateful for. Then when I feel the gratitude rise I focus my mind on where I feel it in my body. I keep my attention on it for as long as possible. If my mind wanders I just notice this and go back to the things I am grateful for. This is a lovely way to fall asleep.

Feel free to choose one or more of these and use them in combination. Doing this will certainly make your bedtimes more intentional and hopefully will make falling asleep easier. Sleep is the foundation of healing and recovery for the body mind and spirit.

Sweet dreams x

Pilates and breath – your secret super power

When you think of Pilates you may not think of the breath. Most people know that Yoga involves some deep involvement in the breath. Certainly in the Byron Bay, Lennox Head and Ballina area there is a plethora of Yoga options and what many people don’t know is that Pilates is also a breath based movement system. If you do a Pilates mat class in a gym you may not get to learn the subtleties of the breath. I don’t want anyone to miss out on the power of this in their Pilates practice. The breath is where your deepest, strongest, lightest power resides.

Joseph Pilates was an asthmatic as a child. He went to all sorts of doctors and healers and as a young man studied yoga, tai chi. When he invented his movement system breath was at the centre of it. The mechanics of breath underpin the basic spine shapes in Pilates exercises. And the purpose of many of the exercises is to free up the function of the lungs, to enable better circulation and increased oxygen intake for the body.

2 Spine shapes in Pilates and breath

  1. The C-Curve or rounded spine (flexion) is associated with the exhale. The diaphragm and the pelvic diaphragm lift to help to empty the lungs. The roundness of the lumbar spine and the back of the ribs help to facilitate this movement in the diaphragms. Fully emptying the lungs is essential for deep, oxygenating inhales. The C-curve spinal position supports a full and thorough exhale.
  2. The arched spine (extension) is associated with the inhale. The opening of the chest and subtle lift of the sternum allow the diaphragm to drop and the lungs to fill. If the pelvic diaphragm is responsive enough it will also drop allowing the lower abdomen as the organs between the diaphragms drop.

This is not the only way to breath in Pilates. There are benefits to reversing this pattern during some exercises. There are also other breathing techniques that become necessary as you move to the more advanced repertoire. As a beginner to intermediate student of Pilates mastery of the breath as the centre of your practice will bring great rewards such as:

  • Helping you to move past gripping of muscles towards deep engagement of muscles
  • Relaxing the compensatory muscles to deepen the work where you want it
  • Releasing tension around the neck and shoulders
  • Healthy engagement of pelvic floor

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

4 tips for Pelvic Floor Health – And Why Kegels Are No Quick Fix

Are you looking for how to improve your pelvic floor health? You may be noticing that you leak wee occasionally when you laugh, cough, sneeze or run. Sex may have become quite painful or you may have a prolapse in later life or after having children. Pelvic floor health is not well understood in the broader community and especially not in the fitness world. But it needs to be because the way we train our bodies has a direct impact on the pelvic floor. Instead of doing damage we want to get deep engagement and coordination of the pelvic floor, this is the true meaning of ‘core strength’.

First things first

I have said it before and I will say it again. Your pelvic floor is not a floor, it is not fixed nor should it be. It is a diaphragm and it mirrors the diaphragm you have under your ribs. Both diaphragms are part of your respiratory system and need to move with your breath. This is true for both men and women and whilst the information in this post is targeted toward women it is also relevant for men.

Why not Kegels?

Your pelvic floor (diaphragm) is made up of many seperate muscles that work together. Kegels target a couple of the muscles in the pelvic floor (diaphragm). Kegels work on muscle strength by contracting the muscles, making them shorter and tighter. However if you train some of the pelvic floor muscles to be short and tight and the others are not trained at all this can make it difficult for these muscles to work together as a diaphragm, to respond to the breath. To be pliable, flexible and toned the pelvic floor (diaphragm) needs to be worked in coordination with the muscles in the torso and with the breath.

4 tips for a healthy pelvic floor

  1. Allow your breath to come deep into your belly. When you inhale let your belly come out like a balloon (use no force or tension), this can take some time to relax the pelvic diaphragm enough to allow the breath to come down low in the torso. As you exhale notice your belly return naturally towards your bones. This simple breathing technique will help the overall coordination of the muscles in torso and your pelvic floor.
  2. Massage around your SITS bones. Grab a clean tennis ball and start by sitting down on the floor or a chair and massage around the outside of one SITS bone. After a minute or so you can then massage on the inside edge of the same SITS bone. Go gently as the tissues in here are delicate. Continue to breath as in tip 1. Then repeat on the other side.
  3. Practice creating intra-abdominal pressure before you lift anything. Practicing is easy, we can do it with our imagination. Bring your hands out in front of you and imagine you are about to pick up a child. You should feel a slight engagement of your abdominal muscles, this is intra-abdominal pressure. It changes in response to weight that you are lifting.
  4. Have good lifting techniques. Always use a good hip hinge to bend down and pick up anything heavy. Keeping the spine long the intra-abdominal pressure will kick in but in this position most of the weight will be taken by the legs. If your spine is bent then much of the load will end up in the lower abdominals and pelvic floor.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I have had several abdominal surgeries for infertility and recovered after cesarean birth. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online.

‘Pelvic Prosperity’ and your core – what you need to know

Do you want more core strength? Do you wish you were more connected to your core? Are you searching ‘Pilates classes Ballina’ so you can develop core strength? It might be to reduce back pain, or to stop leaking urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh, jump or run. You may have a displaced organ (or prolapse) and you know you need to work ‘down there’ but you don’t know where to start. Or you may be post-natal and wanting to re-strengthen after carrying and birthing a baby. Pelvic prosperity is for women in all of these scenarios. It is the wealth (in spirit and quality of life) that comes from understanding your pelvic floor enough to really look after it.

So first off, your pelvic floor is not a floor. It is not supposed to have the stability of a floor, your pelvic floor is a diaphragm and it mirrors the diaphragm under your ribs. Your pelvic diaphragm is a group of muscles important in women for internal control of the urethra, vagina and rectum and also important for the enjoyment of sex. The pelvic diaphragm muscles are also important for mens health, however the focus of this article is women.

In the exercise world there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about ‘pelvic floor’ strength, the risks of training incorrectly and how best to care for pelvic muscles over the different life stages of life women go through. Most information on pelvic floor health advises ‘strengthening the pelvic floor’ by doing a kegel type exercise – a squeeze and lift of the pelvic floor muscles. This has its place when prescribed to a specific body for specific purpose but this has been taken into the training and exercise world and the side effects for women are not good. The misconception is to learn to brace or grip the pelvic diaphragm at the same time as the deep abdominals to build ‘core strength’. There are a few reasons why this is not a good idea

  1. When we squeeze our pelvic floor Kegel style we are making the muscles stronger, shorter and tighter. Great right? No! What many people don’t realise is that pelvic floor dysfunction often occurs when the pelvic floor is too toned, too strong and too short. In this state the pelvic diaphragm cannot respond to the pressure in the abdomen and so the organs are left unsupported.
  2. When the pelvic diaphragm is trained to be strong and short and tight this leads to further bracing of the deep abdominals, the pelvic diaphragm is so tight it is unable to release with the breath so the the deepest abdominals are not able to engage properly. Training is then only focused on the more superficial muscles and the deep abdominals get left behind.

This leaves women with hypertonic pelvic diaphragm and weak deep abdominals susceptible to back pain and other ailments. They may also have a fine 6 pack or a flat tummy.

A responsive pelvic diaphragm is one that can react and engage when the need arises. Bending down to pick up a child or the shopping; When pressure builds in the torso from a big sneeze; To control a full bladder. Just tightening our pelvic muscles into one contraction does not get us to a responsive pelvic diaphragm.

Release

Release is a word that we don’t hear often associated with the pelvic diaphragm. However the release is what happens after the pelvic diaphragm lifts to support the organs. It responds to the diaphragm under the ribs and moves in tandem with it. If your pelvic muscles are so tight you are not able to release them you may need some treatment from a pelvic floor physiotherapist.

Massaging the muscles around your SITS bones and working with your breath can support the process of releasing the pelvic floor.

Two other important aspects for healing of the pelvic diaphragm are:

  1. Alignment of the pelvis: Our pelvic diaphragm muscles attach to our pelvis. The positioning of our pelvis affects the tone and length of our pelvic muscles. If the pelvis is tucked under all the time the muscles at the front of the pelvic area will be short and tight and will restrict responsiveness of the whole pelvic diaphragm.
  2. Getting the load just right: To load a pelvic diaphragm where the muscles are shortened and tight is very difficult, the abdominals just take over and there is no benefit for pelvic control. Once the pelvic diaphragm is released enough to begin to engage learning to feel the right load is the next step. This is done through trial and error with full attention to alignment.

And this is the way we heal the pelvic diaphragm and create pelvic prosperity for ourselves.

If you would like to try some of these techniques out for yourself, I am running a movement webinar “Pelvic Prosperity” Wednesday 16th September at 8pm via zoom $39. The webinar will cover basic techniques to care for your pelvic diaphragm during exercise and day to day movement. You will also get to keep the recording for your future reference. Sign up here. Be quick and use the code movetonurture to get $10 off the price.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I have had several abdominal surgeries for infertility and recovered from birth. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online.

Are you in an injury cycle?

Do you have an old injury that comes and goes? Just when you think it’s improving something “goes” and suddenly you are back where you started? Recurring injuries can affect all different areas of the body including neck, shoulders and ribs, mid and lower back, hips, knees and ankles and even feet. Conditions such as bursitis (shoulder / hip), plantar fasciatis (feet), knee pain, mid back tightness, and lower back pain are good examples of recurring injuries. These conditions tend to come and go, when they come they can be extremely debilitating. Recurring injuries usually mean that the way you move each day is reinforcing the pattern that is causing the injury. I want you to see how changing the way you move may alleviate your recurring injury for good!

There are key patterns in the body that contribute to pain and recurring injury. The form of our body in a squat is a great assessment tool to see what patterns are at work. When you bend to go into a squat do your knees roll in or out? Or are they in line with your toes? Is your spine long from your tail to the crown of your head? Or have you buckled in the spine to bend your knees? Are your shoulders rolling in with the weight of your arms hanging down or are you holding your shoulder blades in place on the back of your ribs as you come down? Is your neck and head part of your spine in a long line or is your chin pushed forward dragging the back of your neck with it? ]

Get some one to take a photo of you in a squat or do a gentle knee bend / squat in front of a mirror. Check yourself against some of the questions above. This simple test can reveal a lot about the reflex movement patterns that you have. We all have reflex movement patterns, this is how the brain frees up space for more complex decisions like what we will be cooking for dinner! If your reflex movement patterns are good for your bones, joints tendons, ligaments and muscles then you will not suffer recurring injuries. If your reflex movements put uneven strain or pressure on your bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles then it is likely you will suffer recurring injuries and pain.

Correcting reflex movement patterns is not as hard as you think! Our bodies and particularly our brains are very pliable. It can take a short investment of a lot of attention to the way we move to correct any unhelpful patterns. Once these have been learned we can turn them over to reflex movement that is now not going to cause misalignment and pain. The help of a movement teacher and a manual therapist will help with this process. In the long term once you have learned new movement patterns you will need manual therapy much less often as you enjoy a lot more pain free time.

Here are some basic tips for developing healthy movement patterns to keep recurring injury and pain at bay.

  • Learn to do a good squat or hip crease – this movement can be handy every time you sit down on a chair or to use the toilet. Doing this movement with awareness will begin to improve your deep abdominal and leg strength as well as help with spinal alignment and stability.
  • Spend some time barefoot and strengthen your feet – strong feet muscles are the best foundation you can have. Strong feet actually help muscles in the legs to switch on. Walking on lots of different surfaces in bare feet helps a lot and this is why we practice Pilates in grip socks because being out of shoes helps to develop the intrinsic muscles of the feet.
  • Do regular gentle spine twist (or rotation of the ribcage) – rotation of the ribcage is needed for a strong and healthy walking pattern. Gentle and regular rotation through the rib cage can help with easier walking. Rib cage rotations can also help to deepen the breath and create ‘space’ around the lungs.
  • Glide the shoulder blades over the back of the ribs – shoulder protraction and retraction is an important movement for supporting the position of the shoulder joint and the position of the arm in the shoulder joint. Shoulder protraction and retraction helps to strengthen the upper back and is a great to antidote to lots of sitting in front of a computer.
  • Treat the head and neck as part of the spine – imagine you have string from the very top of your head going right up to the sky, like you are a puppet on a string. This image can help to place the head on the neck and lengthen the spine. Use this image often through the day to remind you to lengthen, this will also engage and strengthen the deep core muscles.

If you feel like the recurring injury cycle is ruling your life and constant pain is stopping you from doing the things you love, then reach out for a private or duet session to assess your movement patterns and take control. It’s amazing how quickly you can learn new movement patterns to avoid pain.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates