05 December 2017
Battling Back Pain
Yoga and Pilates for preventing and treating back pain
- Back pain is something many of us live with. In fact I Googled some statistics – 1 in 6 Australians will suffer back pain at least once each year with 80% suffering at some stage in their lives – that’s huge! There aren’t many people who escape Scott-free but kitesurfers and surfers are at a really high risk. For years I was plagued with lower back pain that worsened after I broke my foot in 2014. I thought was just something I had to deal with, an inescapable consequence of competing and kiting for 20 years (and getting older). 2015 was my worst year; I was training hard with lots of weights and high intensity exercise at the gym but my back suffered. I was “fit” but I felt like shit. It’s only in the last 2 years have I started managing it properly with yoga and Pilates and finally found relief.
Above: breaking my foot at the Merimbula Classic a few years ago exacerbated the problems in my body and led to my worst year of back pain. It was also the catalyst that led me to taking my health far more seriously.
For me (and maybe you too) the importance of maintaining a strong, healthy and pain-free body is critical; kitesurfing is my livelihood and my passion. After finally receiving an accurate diagnosis of my foot from good friend and Kite Week doctor, Wiaan Vogel, I worked with a Physio (Sports and Spinal) for 3 months before my referral to Pilates and yoga. My first Pilates instructor, Renee from Mindful Pilates in Coolum really set me up along with Sports and since then I've been working with Amanda of Kinected Movement. All these people have helped me overcome back pain and also develop greater awareness of my body and movement that I apply in surfing and kiting.
“My philosophy in movement is to treat the whole, so we look at the parts above and below the low back to create more optimal, efficient movement strategies that allow for an even distribution of movement and forces. Fluid spinal movement into all ranges is critical to being able to adapt to the environment of everyday life as well as being on the board. The lower body requires good alignment, strength and range of movement to maintain good postural habits that are crucial for minimising lower back pain. Integration of all these parts contributes to the core control we need to maintain balance in our movements. Due to incredible focus and mindfulness, Ben is immensely aware of his body through his sessions and he loves learning more about the design & function of the body which we adapt to the way he moves out on the water. Finally, the key to keeping his lower back pain at bay is to move every day using foundational exercises.” - Amanda, Kinected Pilates
Based on what I’ve learned, each Namotu Kite Week I bring yoga instructor, nutritionist and co-host, Sasha, who takes daily classes for anyone who wants it. For many of our guests this is their first taste of yoga and I hope that it’s something they appreciate and continue at home.
“Both kiting and surfing place a lot of strain on the back, either through compression (think kiting over choppy water and taking heavy landings), though tightening up glutes or from simply being in an unfamiliar posture (paddle surfing challenges beginners’ backs because the muscles that run along the spine aren’t used to working so hard). The core abdominal muscles are also put under some new pressures like keeping the spine and pelvis stable despite being tugged by the harness/kite or popping up when paddle surfing.
Yoga works to simultaneously build strength and flexibility, lengthening areas that become tight with use and strengthening areas that aren’t usually under pressure to perform.
Kite Weeks are crazy – although most of the guests have above average fitness, they’re often people who rarely (or have never) surfed or kited before. Suddenly they’re spending 6hrs in the water for 7 days straight! That’s a huge shock for the body and tends aggravate existing injuries or result in muscle soreness. The fact is a week of yoga isn’t going to be a magic solution, so my aim is to keep people stretching and give them a taste of yoga that they’ll hopefully pursue when they get home. My classes there are focussed on gentle core strengthening exercises, hip and shoulder stretches and balancing poses, not becoming pro yogis.
It takes weeks, months, even years, to reshape your body. Tight muscles need lots of consistent stretching to lengthen and weak muscles take time to develop so don’t expect overnight results. My advice is don’t lose heart and give up if you don’t see results in a month, give it at least three months to see some results. If possible work with an experienced yoga instructor, physiotherapist or Pilates coach to identify where you need to work on and how you can do it. If you are going to tackle this on your own, go slowly – that means moving in/out of poses slowly, not pushing too hard or overdoing it and being consistent. A little bit each day is much better than just one big session every week or two." - Sasha
Sasha has been practising yoga for over 15 years but first appreciated it during university and only later started teaching. Sasha’s work as a nutritionist taught her that much of the problems faced by clients was mental, and yoga provided a way for people to relax and learn to appreciate their bodies. Each year Sasha co-hosts and teaches yoga on the Namotu Kite Weeks. Find out more about Sasha via her website here.
Amanda Erlank, Kinected Pilates
Amanda has been practising Pilates for more than a decade and now teaches with a special interest in chronic pain, pre & post-natal conditioning and working with athletes. Amanda shares her wealth of knowledge with fellow teachers while operating her studio in Peregian on the Sunshine Coast. Amanda has shared some of her top exercises for managing back pain. See below for Amanda's top 5 exercises for kitesurfers or visit her website here. For some review on yoga mats, click here.