The work of Sarah Key
Where do I start! Sarah Key in common with Frederick Alexander has links in the UK and Australia. You can see her history on her website and so I’m not going to repeat it here. Her work seems to have been in the background hidden behind conventional medical wisdom, similarly to Alexander’s. There is something about Sarah’s work which seems to draw from Alexander’s work but I haven’t yet put my finger on it. Certainly you can use one to compliment the other as I do. Over 25 years, neither my doctors or any other health professional have recommended me to look at her work. I found out about her in a book shop!
The most striking thing about Sarah’s work is that it contains hope! It is incredibly positive even for situations where pain is all-consuming and the conventional belief is of no hope, degeneration and decline. If you have found yourself in a place where you believe or have been told that all you can do is ‘manage’ the situation, I would urge you to look at Sarah’s work.
Sarah admits she may have taken the ‘wrong‘ path in publishing her work direct to patients rather than going through traditional medical channels but her experiences with patients actual problems have greatly enhanced her work in my view. Actually seeing and feeling what patients deal with has enabled her to put together a body of work which actually is effective for many people! She isn’t just sitting in an office or laboratory thinking about how the body works – she does that I’m sure but she also experiences and sees what the body does through her patients now and in the recent past. Her work has layers of medical rigor but she can also show the lay person who hasn’t time to research exactly what they can do in simple language.
Imagine a family who have access to all the medical ‘experts‘ in the world. They are also not short of money and can have and see the best. Imagine that family chooses Sarah Key to work with them and writes a foreword in her book. Whatever you may think of the Royal Family this is the reality. Sarah has worked with them to overcome back issues they have had. Just look at how much sitting down they have to do on official duties, sleeping in beds which are not their own and travelling around. It doesn’t surprise me they have enlisted Sarah to help them. So here’s a question – if this is true and I’m reliably informed it is, why do our doctor’s not recommend her work to patients?
Sarah has disseminated her work via books, youtube videos, phone apps and lectures. She sees clients when she is able (it is costly to see her privately but definitely worth it if you can!) and for those who don’t get to see her she advises what they can do via these other methods. If you look up her videos or apps or even her books, don’t be fooled by the simple language – Sarah has been working on this subject for decades and the medical rigor is there in spades. See also an information sheet on the importance of sitting well Sarah has kindly forwarded to this blog – ‘Sitting’ along with comments on ‘War or Peace?’ Sarah has also started her own blog with lots of practical suggestions for back pain sufferers.
It would be interesting to compare the efficiency of her work and the established medical practice for treating back pain. I don’t know of any research trial that has done this, its definitely time! (Sarah has worked with Professor Michael Adams and Dr Manos Stefanakis of Bristol University and has published two recent papers entitled ‘Healing of painful intervertebral discs: implications for physiotherapy – Part I and Part 2. I believe these are available currently on Google)
So we come to the Sarah Mod’s! (What I needed to do to help me ease in to Sarah Key’s exercises)
In my own personal experience I found learning the Alexander Technique invaluable before starting using Sarah Key’s exercises. This was because my body was out of control and I had lost trust in it. I stabilised myself using the work of Alexander and then had the confidence to use my body by doing some of Sarah Key’s exercises – they literally got me moving again! You can delve straight in if you do not find yourself in that position and if you are in that position you can take it slowly and carefully. Her books are available in online stores and in the high street book stores. Sarah sometimes finds her patients have come to her as a ‘last resort’ – they’ve tried everything else and nothing has worked. Try changing that for yourself and put her high up on your list of what to try to help you with your back/neck/joint problems. You may be pleasantly surprised!
So far I use the following Sarah Key exercises – Rolling along the spine, Rocking knees to the chest, Reverse curl ups and the BackBlock routine. These are the only ones I can talk about at this stage and will add more as I progress in my recovery. Having said that, these exercises are very powerful and have made a tremendous difference already!
If your lower back is very ‘solid’ – the muscles are very tight and can easily go into spasm then I found using my ‘Back ironing’ technique a useful introduction to Sarah’s ‘Rocking knees to the chest’. Slowly I found I was able to lower my knees further to my chest over a period of time without causing further pain and spasms in my lower back. I’m in no hurry and want to really feel how things are and how they change. (Nov 2012- Sarah Key has now ‘adopted’ the term ‘Back ironing’ from this blog when treating her patients).
‘Rolling along the spine’ – when Sarah showed me this and I tried it, it did cross my mind that she was mad (sorry Sarah)! It was an action that I had spent my whole life avoiding and I was worried I would ‘slip’ a disc and increase my leg pain. Neither happened. I was hopeless at the start but now can do it effortlessly. This exercise also shows you very clearly how you tighten up over night and am stiff in the mornings. Try it first at night before you sit down to watch television in the evening. Then try it in the morning straight out of bed! Is there a difference? This points you to how its important to get your spine moving and warmed up in the morning before doing anything too strenuous. I do this exercise every morning – it takes about 15 seconds!
‘Reverse curl ups’ – a great way to strengthen your tummy muscles without hurting your back!
‘BackBlock routine’ – when I was given a Back Block by Sarah I thought it looked like an instrument of torture! It was to begin with so I treated it with caution! Sarah points to the fact you can use a book instead and you can vary the height to begin with. I found the Back Block could bring on lower back spasms so I used it for only a few seconds to begin with, used my ‘Back ironing!‘ technique and gradually built up to her recommendations. Instead of a soupy mess of a feeling and pulling in my lower back when I do her ‘Rocking knees to the chest’, I now have a separation in my hips from my lower back (no more pulling) and my spine feels like its moving on ball bearings (have my discs really started to regenerate from their degenerative state? It certainly feels that way!). So now when I bend I don’t get that constant pain in the lower back.
There are many more exercises to try and I’m excited about learning them in the future. I may need to modify them to suit me to start with and you may need to do the same but hopefully this blog has given you some tools to enable you to do that with confidence.
Sarah has worked on the majority of joints in the body as well as the back and neck. She has written a number of books and her exercises are straightforward. She takes the mystery out of back, neck and other joint issues and most importantly gives confidence back to the patient. I can thoroughly recommend her work and I hope it will soon be looked into by the people who are in charge of making decisions about back and joint care in the UK and worldwide.
Sarah’s books are currently available on Amazon and in shops – The Back Sufferer’s Pocket Guide, Back Sufferer’s Bible and Keep your Joints Young. All three are great for different reasons.
(Sarah Morgan does not have a medical background so it is emphasised that her blog is the result of her experiences and listening to others only. Before doing any of the suggestions contained in her blog, check with your doctor if you have any concerns on how they may affect you)
Pingback: Cure No. 2 | Surviving Back Pain
A message from Sarah Key
I remember Sarah coming to see me when I was there in London in June of this year (2012). The circumstances must have seemed rather odd to her because I had taken a room on the top floor above my hairdresser, which must have looked a bit of a naff arrangement. Who would have thought . . . .
I remember Sarah’s demeanour very well. She was typical of somebody locked in a battle with their own back and quite brought low by it. To me, she was quite withdrawn and to my mind [excuse me Sarah] almost a shadow of what I imagine her former self to be. Sarah is a clever girl and involved in the scientific world but she totally lacked confidence in a way that happens when people have almost got to the point of giving up, almost betrayed by their back.
Most people who come to see me are pro-active and self-starting because its true it is not easy to find me – and, well, they have to have a bit of nouse. What with me commuting from Sydney to London and only there intermittently, no London back specialists referring patients to me – and also in these rather unprofessional rooms, both of us were starting from rather a low base. (I felt in a way that I was operating rather like I had when I first started seeing patients in London nearly forty years ago! It was as if I was coming the full circle. )
Like many of my patients however, Sarah was no push-over and not an easy case to persuade with my concept. I always assume this to be because she had been so mucked around by the medical and paramedical professions to date that she had become almost cynical and wary of blasé promises. Like many, she had taken to finding her own way through the medical maze and was diffident to the point of wariness; an independent-thinking person who would be making up her own mind. No gift of the gab was going to get her across the line.
The most striking feature about Sarah’s clinical picture was her fear of and inability to bend. Like so many of you, she had faithfully taken on the well-meaning but erroneous advice from practitioners in the past that this was something she should not do, or do with the attendant risk of ‘slipping another disc’. Her muscles were all tightly contracted and the soft tissues adaptively shortened all through her lower back and up into the mid-back. She was getting around, ashen-faced and guarded, like a rigid pretzel about to snap, with a spine that was completely unable to roll with the punches and absorb the shocks and bangs of everyday life. She was in pain everywhere and also down her leg.
It was quite easy to palpate (feel) her problem lumbar segments, compressed and rotated on their axes (but then I have been using my fingers like a piano tuner to sound out problem spinal links for nearly half a century). I mobilized her jammed lumbar segments [I use my heel] and then I began the quite lengthy process of inducting her into using the BackBlock as a daily pressure change therapy and spinal decompression regime, for her to do at home – forever! Yes, that’s right – forever.
It’s interesting to see that she thought I might be mad (apology accepted Sarah) but this is quite typical. Chronic sufferers have the sense that their back is so fragile, like a piece of Dresden china, that it must be handled with kid gloves or they will be made pay the next day or two. Really, the converse is true. The spine needs generous end of range movement to sluice a fluid exchange through the discs, not least to get rid of all the retained inflammatory products in them that add to the pain when they cannot be evacuated. (Yes, your back might be sore and complain in getting used to the new rules – but this is the way of the future. The back no longer dictating the rules. Even lifting is an essential final stage of all spines rehabilitating.)
That evening, I sent Sarah by email a summary of her spinal condition and what she had to do and kept in touch with her over the weeks ahead, seeing her one more time before I came home to Sydney. By then she was on holiday in Spain and suffering the ill-effects of bad beds but was starting to show glimmers of improvement. The good news (and the other side, the bad news!) is that although she is not there yet and will not be for some time, she has started to recover. After years of it, she can see signs that are encouraging. She has been warned that there is no quick fix and that this is because the metabolic rate of discs is so slow. She will continue improving as she keeps bolstering the nutrient exchange while at the same time restoring length and strength to those poor contracted back muscles and soft tissues. The process is underway but she is on the journey!