On the 3rd of September in 2018, I took a private Pilates class that would change my life forever. I had just given birth to my daughter four months prior to the class. Given the round-the-clock breastfeeding and constant carrying of my baby in my postpartum, I started to feel mild pain in my lower back muscles. Later I discovered that I had a small tear in my lower spine after doing a scan with a spine specialist. Although I managed to recover quickly and became symptom-free in a few weeks by working closely with a physiotherapist, I was still upset that my body was not as strong as it used to be.
Little did I know the real disaster had yet to come. In my eagerness to regain my pre-pregnancy strength so that I would be in the best position to take care of my daughter, I signed up for a weekly private Pilates class with an experienced instructor recommended by a friend. I’ve heard, time and again, that Pilates can be helpful for curing back pain and spine issues. Before my first class began, I explained my postpartum condition in detail to the instructor. She nodded constantly in response, signaling to me that she had processed and understood everything I was saying. She assured me that she has helped many people with back pain. I trusted her completely.
The class started. The very first set of exercises she asked me to do were repetitive sit-ups from a barrel. Rather than have my legs bent while performing these sit-ups, I was asked to keep my legs straight. She also pushed me to lean forward at the end of every sit-up such that my stomach was closer to my thighs. I later found out that these modifications added more strain to my lower back. I was exhausted, but still obediently obliged when she instructed me to perform more reps even though I was already pushing my limit.
The pain in my back became significantly pronounced over the week after my first class. I thought very hard about what I had done wrong but did not associate it with the Pilates class. The notion that someone who spoke so confidently about strengthening my spine could have damaged it unfortunately did not occur to me. Against better judgment, I returned the next week for another class with the same instructor. I informed her that my condition had deteriorated and that I did not know why. She assured me that my back would recover in no time after a few more classes with her.
We repeated what we did in the first class, only this time she pushed me even harder. When I felt an obvious strain in my lower back while performing the sit-ups, I informed her immediately. She brushed it off, saying it’s common to feel strain when you exercise. She also explained that sit-ups train the upper back muscles and do not affect the lower back, which I later found out was untrue.
I emerged from this class feeling like my body was no longer mine. My body went on strike and my life has been turned upside down ever since. I was not able to sit down at all, not even for a few seconds, without feeling excruciating pain, after the class ended. My medical scans showed that the one of my spinal discs at the old injury site had ruptured, causing massive inflammation, a far cry from the state it was in prior to those classes. I now know that sit-ups cause a lot of strain to the lower spine and is not recommended for postpartum women whose cores tend to be weaker. This instructor not only modified the sit-ups so that they were more strenuous, but she also pushed me to go harder.
It took me a few months to understand how serious the consequences of these two wrongly taught Pilates classes were. I was hoping that I would slowly recover in a few months by resting and doing the right rehab exercises. I was wrong. The excruciating back pain did not get any better for the first year after I took these classes. I barely left my house during this first year. Walking to a convenience store that was 15 minutes away was a challenge as walking short distances would make the pain flare up. My inability to sit down meant that I had to stand while eating and could not travel in any vehicle. Even lifting a water jar to pour myself a glass of water was a struggle because my spine could not bear the tiniest bit of stress. My heart broke every time I told my daughter I could not carry her whenever she begged me to. Most devastating of all, my plan to have a second baby was indefinitely delayed.
I would cry my eyes out every night because of the pain that prevented me from falling asleep. Two full years after that fateful day, I can still hardly sit down for a meal without experiencing pain. I have not enjoyed a pain-free day since the last Pilates class. The memory that someone who was supposed to know better pushed me to do something permanently damaging to my spine while assuring me it was good for me haunts me every day. My heart sinks at the thought that the same thing may happen - or perhaps has already happened - to someone else.
People say that injuries are unavoidable when you exercise, but I’m not sure if they understand some damage caused is permanent and some consequences will change your life forever. My recovery journey has been full of misery, despair and heartbreak. I’ve sought help from more than a dozen physiotherapists, functional trainers, sports doctors and so on - you name it, I’ve seen them all. A fair number of them worsened my already bad condition by making assumptions, adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, or even telling me things that were simply not true. At its worst, my spinal injury flared up so badly after a physiotherapy session that I had to be sent to the hospital in an emergency ambulance because my body had completely frozen and could not move at all. My overall health was badly affected as many parts of my body were deconditioned because the pain I suffered prevented me from moving much.
After many failed attempts to recover and through trial and error, I learnt that a daily walk was the most powerful medicine that helped me relieve pain and improve my spine mobility. It was way more effective than any pain killer or rigid gym exercises. I've learnt to walk with good posture, good breathing techniques and a grateful mind to appreciate that I can enjoy being outdoors again. I've learnt to listen to my body's signals. In today’s fitness world where the mainstream mantra is going beyond your limit, we’ve forgotten that our bodies were not built to be pushed to the edge everyday. Walking is hugely underestimated and a few more steps everyday can make a big difference to your physical and mental health.
Due to my back conditions, I had to say goodbye to heels and flats as heels exert too much stress on the spine and flats do not provide any support. However, I was also unwilling to resort to traditional orthotic shoes, which are not only very expensive but also clunky and heavy. I started Sunnystep with the most comfortable, lightweight walking shoes designed for Asian feet that provide ample support that I need for myself. Our purpose in Sunnystep is to provide the best tools, knowledge and inspiration to help people move freely and happily; so that a tragedy like mine will never happen again.
Hi Miss Balance, like Farzana, I read your whole article and felt very sorry for what you had gone through. Indeed, as new parents, we all look forward to having a great wonderful bonding period during our children’s initial growing up years. Despite the setback, you chose to stay strong, be positive and willing to share your bad experience and personal insights with us. You didn’t just sit back, lament on your “bad luck”, neither did you just carry on to live in sorrow and “blame the world”, asking “why me” …., instead, you brought us a truly Singaporean brand, setting up a local company with a catchy corporate name, dedicated to providing us with healthy shoes at affordable prices.
I chanced upon your outlet at Novena Square 2 on Christmas Eve while there for my dental appointment. I walked in, tried out the light-weight comfortable shoes. Recently, I experienced bunion and flattening arch problems, and was looking for shoes to mitigate my foot issues. Honestly, at your outlet, I was already sold on how your shoes might help me when I tried them there, however, would still like to google your website when back home to find out more information. I kept telling myself I would definitely get a pair for myself this week. I would want to personally tried out the shoes myself for a while before recommending to my family members and friends. I strongly believe your products are the right shoes I should own. Who knows, I might go on to own several pairs.
Wish you speedy recovery, great health and a Happy New Year. All the best and happiness throughout, not just 2020 but many years ahead……
p.s. By the way, I love your company’s core mission, values, and product philosophy. Keep up the good work!
Hi, I am sorry to hear about your experience. I read the whole article. I must say you are a very obedient student. You followed every instruction of your instructor. You didn’t even question. I have faced some similar problems with my instructor.I am facing upper back pain for many years. I also decided to do pilates. For a few days, there was no pain. After some days, my pain started. My condition was terrible. After that, I didn’t continue the classes. I think you should be more careful about that.
Thanks for sharing your experience. By reading this, many people will be aware of. I completely agree with you that “It’s extremely important to understand your body and know what works best for you.”
Get Well Soon. 🙂