Tears streaming down her face, Janice looked at her husband and shook her head. “I really want to go to the beach with you, but I just can’t. Every step is excruciating.” “My husband and I had planned a 10-day trip to Aruba,” Janice recalls. “But a few days before the trip, I fell and suffered a compression fracture in my spine. I was in so much pain, I could barely walk. When I asked my doctor what he thought I should do, he said I should go — I could relax on the beach, he told me.
“So we went. But since I could barely walk, we couldn’t do any of the activities we’d looked forward to, like boat rides and paddle-boarding. My husband was supportive, but I felt like an old lady next to him — and I felt bad that he wasn’t able to enjoy the trip. I had always seen myself as a strong woman, but I felt so overwhelmed by the pain. With each step, all I could think was, Is this the way my life is going to be forever?
“Unfortunately, that wasn’t my first time dealing with debilitating back pain. Twelve years earlier, my L5 vertebrae had ruptured. I had back surgery to repair it, and although it helped a bit, I was still in a lot of pain. Plus, my spine was severely misaligned, which caused my right shoulder to be rounded and made it hard to breathe. Sometimes I was bent so far over, I couldn’t stand up straight. I tried to remain stoic, but my posture made me so self-conscious. And I was in so much pain that my situation became emotionally draining and depression started creeping in.
“I eventually retired early because my discomfort interfered too much with my work. As a sales representative, I had to travel a lot, but whether I was sitting in a car or hauling my luggage onto an airplane, it had become nearly impossible.
”All of this also made it tough to be the grandmother I wanted to be. I couldn’t take my grandchildren to the movies because there was no way I could sit for two hours straight. My husband also couldn’t leave me alone with the younger ones because I needed his help getting them into and out of their cribs. I felt scared when I thought about what I would do if he wasn’t there to help me.
“Throughout the years, I had tried physical therapy, but since I traveled for work, I couldn’t keep up with regular appointments. And when I was able to make the schedule work, my health insurance company only covered so many sessions each year.
“I also tried taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers, but they made me feel nauseous. I knew I needed to find a more permanent solution if I was going to live out my retirement the way I had envisioned.”
Relief at Last
“While I was on Facebook one day, I saw an ad for Privé-Swiss Fitness, a Pilates studio near my home that offers mat classes. I had always read that having strong core muscles was the key to a strong, pain-free back, so I decided to give it a try and signed up for a beginner class.
“When I started, it was really intimidating. My back was in such bad shape that I worried whether I’d be able to even do any of the exercises. Luckily, the staff was so knowledgeable and encouraging, I felt comfortable pretty quickly. They would offer alternative poses that worked for my body, which gave me confidence and made it easy to stick with it. I focused on a handful of exercises and did them at the studio and at home.
“There were days when I had discomfort after class, but it was simply my back and shoulders falling back into normal alignment. Within a few weeks, I felt physically and mentally stronger—overall, my life had improved. I continued to practice at home or take a class every day, and within two months, I felt less pain and had more mobility. By six months, the pain was nearly gone and I was stronger than ever. Today I no longer have chronic pain, but if I wake up in the morning with a slight twinge, it’s always gone after I do the exercises.
“Pilates is now a way of life for me. I have so much more self-esteem, and I no longer think of myself as someone with a back problem. It has been such a positive experience, I can’t imagine not doing it! Now, instead of missing out on making memories with my family, I’m living life to the fullest. Recently, my husband and I took our grandkids with us to Aruba, and instead of sitting on the sidelines, I played in the water with them and enjoyed every minute of it!”
Check out this article on 3 Pilates moves that work to banish aches and pains for good.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.