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When Movement Isn't the Answer

As a GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® teacher and a pilates trainer I’ve spent years helping my clients resolve their issues with pain and physical limitations. I’ve helped dancers and athletes, from professional level to casual enthusiasts, maximize their performance potential. Whether working with high performance movers or older fitness newbies who just want to get down on the floor to play with their grandkids, I’ve always taken a lot of satisfaction in seeing my clients achieve their goals.

So it was with great frustration that for years I quietly endured my own seemingly unresolvable back pain. It started fifteen years earlier, after a dance photoshoot in a too cold studio in which I’d held my spine in an extreme back extension with rotation for shot after shot. It felt like I’d slightly strained my QL and adjusted my own workout accordingly, which seemed to resolve the problem. But then it came back again, this time with an irritated SI joint. I adjusted my workouts and it seemed to settle. But then it kept coming back, worse, longer lasting, and more resistant to my training solutions.

Around the same time a routine annual checkup lead to a follow up with a specialist to further investigate a mass on my left ovary. It turned out not to look cancerous and was most likely a result of endometriosis, but I was advised to have it removed. But the doctor warned that the surgery could adversely effect my fertility and, as I had not yet had my son, that scared me off. I pursued an alternative approach of a dietary and household chemical overhaul, along with a focused course of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines. My doctor was so impressed with the results that he later went to brunch with my acupuncturist to discuss his work.

But with a year after my great success in managing my ovarian issue I had a problem. I was at a GYROKINESIS® course with Juliu Horvath, on my way to becoming a GYROKINESIS® Master Trainer, when I separated my pubis symphysis. This kicked off a new, worse phase in my SI and lumbar pain, which I tried to address with the tools I knew: movement and bodywork. And while I was able to get it under control to the point where I was “moving well” again, I felt fragile. I never knew when it might flair up again. My lumbar spine would frequently get stuck in extension and I’d resort to all my familiar tactics to release it, which might work a little, but not in a lasting way.

I’d never thought of myself as an injured person. I was always strong and the one called on in movement trainings to demonstrate the challenging, extreme movements. So living with what I now had to acknowledge was an injury created a shift in my identity that I wasn’t so comfortable making.

I went on to get pregnant and have a relatively pain free pregnancy, and afterwards my postnatal lumbar and pelvis felt a little disorganized, but the pain seemed to have eased. But over the years it crept back. I worked on it a lot and eventually found I was able to manage it pretty well through movement and by sleeping with an intricately stacked pile of pillows to stabilize my pelvis at night.

And then I had my accident, in which my leg was run over by a pickup truck pulling out of a parking lot as I was walking on the sidewalk. My tibial plateau was shattered and my medial malleolus was broken. After the surgical reconstruction I spent three months using a wheelchair and a walker, much of that time with a heavy boot to stabilize my ankle. I worked hard on my recovery and gained back most of my range of motion. But the big issue afterwards was my back. After my accident it was worse than ever.

I spent more of my life stuck in lumbar extension and in pain. I could camouflage much of it with being strong and a “good mover”, but it hurt. I attributed it to the strain on my psoas from holding up that leg to keep it non-weight bearing for so long, and to the loss of stabilization from my atrophied gluteal muscles. I learned to work around the pain, to manage it. But it was frustrating and kept me from moving like I once did.

And then a bit over a year ago, another checkup landed me and my ovary back at another specialist. The mass had grown and needed to come out. For years I’d wondered if the mass could be part of the issue with my back, but every time I’d brought it up with a body worker or doctor they’d said “well, maybe”, as if it were unlikely. It was much more likely that I was just another hyper-mobile dancer with an unstable SI joint from too many grande battements. So I wasn’t expecting much, if any, relief from the pain when I finally went in for the abdominal surgery I’d avoided fifteen years earlier.

When I went in for my follow up appointment the doctor asked if I wanted to see pictures of the surgery, which of course I did. He showed me the photos and explained he’d removed the ovary along with an attached mass the size of a baseball. I’m not terribly sporty, but I could clearly visualize a baseball and knew that was a very large object to have been contained within my pelvis.

It took awhile to recover from abdominal surgery, but as I did I noticed I no longer had any back or SI pain. I got some bodywork to realign things that had been out of place for quite some time and began moving with more intensity as I healed. The surgery was a year ago in August and I have not had one moment of back pain since. My back no longer sticks in extension and I’m able to work more deeply into movements like “tails up” and “snake” in the Level 2 GYROKINESIS® and GYROTONIC® work. These were movements that used to make me nervous because I’d never know if I’d be able to come back out of them again. I realize now that no matter what movement and breath programing a gave myself before the surgery I could not have fixed my problem. My pelvic structure was literally being separated from the inside out as the mass continued to grow.

I’m fortunate to have resolved this issue before the pandemic, because teaching and demonstrating online classes every day would have been nearly impossible and absolutely miserable with the pain I was having pre-surgery.

The lesson I’ve learned from this is simply to be reminded that sometimes the answer to a client’s movement problem isn’t to do with movement at all. Obviously we can’t diagnose our clients’ ovarian masses or other health irregularities, but we can’t assume that every case of pain or movement dysfunction has a muscular skeletal cause at its root. Clients often confide in us about their medical issues. As trainers we should always be listening and be ready to advise our clients to seek the help they may need beyond our own expertise. And once any underlying issues are addressed we can do what we do best and get them moving to their full potential.

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