Sport – really!
This is a difficult article to write. I have to look over the last 25 years with more than a little degree of frustration! In order to understand my view on sport and exercise, I guess I need to tell you a little bit about my experience with sport.
When I was a child I cycled everywhere. Every day to school and back, further afield for summer jobs (10-12 miles a day), weekend cycling for fun and seeing friends. I used to enjoy playing tennis, learnt some weight training at my local gym and swum regularly with my family. I went to a prestigious UK sporting university where I did running, tennis, aerobic classes, swimming and cycling.
When my back issues started there wasn’t a great deal of advice but I carried on with exercise and sport as best I could. Over the years however, I have been told not to swim breaststroke, then front crawl, then back stroke until there was no strokes left that I could do! I have been told not to run, jog or do any high impact sport (running, jogging and aerobics out then!). Then it was no twisting (tennis out) and cycling eventually bought on muscle spasms. Doctors, consultants, other practitioners all told me what not to do.
I started to get suspicious that the joy of movement and sport could be so wrong for me as I enjoyed it so much in the past. I was left thinking that there was very little that was ‘safe’ for me to do! By then however there was not much exercise I could safely do without increasing pain and causing serious problems. They were right or so I thought. Ultimately I was left with nothing apart from a brief walk now and then and the inability to bend or move smoothly without pain. A miserable sporting existence!
The advice now is to keep moving, keep exercising, keep playing sport. Before a problem becomes chronic this is relatively easy to do. The initial injury heals and you can get on as before and rightly so. However as the pain becomes chronic, exercising can bring on problems as well as help until you don’t know which way to turn and what to do for the best.
My only advice is to do what exercise and sport you can and which you enjoy. If you find one (for example Pilates or yoga) that actually helps back or neck pain then be grateful. Be suspicious however of types of sport which rely on one side of the body solely or which take you off a balanced position for extended periods of time. If you do them, also seek to rebalance your body doing other exercises. If you find you are unable to do your usual exercises or sport without significant pain and problems then the next paragraph aims to give you some ideas of what you can do.
The Alexander Technique talks about redirecting tension and stress in the body in order to discover inherent strength you already have. This was key for the start of my own recovery. I also believe and have experienced what Sarah Key talks about in her book ‘Keep your joints young’. Stretch and suppleness in the joints needs to be maintained as we grow older (the ageing process robs us to some degree, we can prevent further damage). This will give our body the best chance to keep us participating in normal life as well as in our sporting life. Her exercises are based on yoga and are tailored for individual issues and problems with joints in the body as well as giving a daily routine of stretches to prevent problems. I commend Sarah’s book to you to get you moving again as well as The Alexander Technique and any exercise/sport you are happy with and can do!
(Sarah 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)