When I last left you riveted by the Chinese water torture that is the story of rehabbing my back, I was feeling down in the dumps because it still hurts, more than I think it should after almost three months of physical therapy, no outdoor running or spin class and lots of strengthening exercises for my abs and glutes.
It's like one of those never-ending video games, where you achieve a new level or find a new token....only to learn that the ultimate Holy Grail remains elusive.You start to wonder if you'll ever get there, or if you should even be bothering.
Well, no video game addict would ever stop looking....and neither will this running addict. Yesterday I received a new token, a new tool in the quest: a one-on-one Pilates lesson with Patty at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, who is also one of the physiotherapists who supervises me on the Alter-G. I don't want to be overly optimistic (that's not really in my nature anyway), but I'm feeling good about this for two reasons:
1) Patty is not only the only Pilates instructor that Cathy, my physical therapist, wants me to see, but she is also a Boston Marathon qualified runner, a mom and a recovering sacro-iliac joint issue survivor herself. She understands this problem not only academically, but personally (in fact, she says hers still bugs her if she overdoes it working in her garden). She also has a good sense of humor and hung up my kid's picture of a train at her desk at work.
2) Jessica of Pace of Me and Dimity of Another Mother Runner both say Pilates done right was THE magic spell that freed them from the curse of their own back and hip issues. First-hand endorsements from athletes I respect....you can't beat that.
Patty had me warm up with some Kegals. Pregnant and formerly pregnant ladies will remember those. Apparently, not only do they help with incontinence issues (thankfully I don't have those, though I know some runners do), but they improve pelvic floor strength and thus support the back. I need to be doing them all the time, boosting them as I go by imagining my sit bones moving closer to each other with each squeeze.
As I lay on my back doing Kegals, we talked about which exercises in my current routine seem to exacerbate my pain. This was easy for me to answer: the standing glute exercises and the seated-on-a-Swiss-ball leg raises. Patty counseled me to do only one of the standing glute exercises per day until I identify the one that truly makes my pain worse. She suspects it's the one where I swing my leg out to the side--but time will tell.
She then modified one of the exercises Cathy had given me for my abs. For the "laying on my back marching" one I am supposed to slow down and really concentrate on two things: 1) using my abs to lower the leg as well as raise it (this already makes a HUGE difference in how this feels to my back) and 2) exhaling on the raise and inhaling on the lowering. I'm supposed to do the Swiss ball lifts (carefully) with the same focus. She said to think of there being a puppet string from my lower abdomen to my knee. I have to really concentrate on this--my quads really wanted to help.
Patty also suggested I do this exercise lying length-wise on a foam roller. This makes it harder, but also more obvious when I arch my back.
I also have one new ab exercise: the Pilates Hundreds. If you Google this exercise, you'll see the more advanced "real" version, done with legs straight and elevated. That's not the one I'll be doing. My version has me on my back, knees bent in sit-up position and feet on the floor. I then raise my torso to about bra level and do the pulses. I'm also not doing a hundred pulses. Right now, I'm to do four sets of five inhales and five exhales.
The breathing is key for all of this--and I'm very bad at it. Patty says learning breathing control will help my running, too. That makes me more likely to stick with these latest modifications. I've gotten really good at visualizing finishing a strong marathon, or crossing the finish line in Boston with my new abs and buns of steel. It's still a fantasy, but with each squeeze I feel a tiny bit closer.