A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a talk on Back Pain, hosted by an old friend and colleague, Osteopath Riki Richter. Riki is one of the owners of Synergy Sports Medicine, a wonderful clinic in the west end. Thank you to Riki for the invitation and to Inhabit for sending me on the studio’s behalf!

The talk was given by Paul Hodges, an Australian professor who has won awards for his research on spinal pain, injury and health.

There were many physiotherapists, doctors and Osteopaths present, as well as many of my Pilates colleagues. We were all interested in the latest developments on back pain management, sitting on the edges of our seats on a Friday night, waiting to hear the latest tips on how best to help our clients. (Yes, we are nerds)

Paul dove right into his research. It was very clinical, a little dry, and I have to admit, I was a bit worried his talk would be over my head. He spoke about three areas of treatment: biological, physiological and social. He discussed how these areas overlap and how sometimes we have more work to do in one area than the others, all depending on the person standing in front of us – it is up to us to decide how to balance our treatment. 

At the end of the 3-hour talk, I was pleased that I managed to follow his research on pain and it’s effects on the nervous system and muscles, and that I understood the exercise examples he gave. As a Pilates Instructor of almost 25 years, I sometimes underestimate the knowledge I have stored in my head. I am not a doctor, a physiotherapist, or an Osteopath, and I doubt myself. 

I found Pilates because of my own debilitating back pain and I realized as I listened to Paul talk about “these clients” that I WAS that client at one time. In retrospect, my experience with intense back pain has played a big part in my ability to help my clients. The biological/exercise part came easily—my training in Pilates and other movement modalities have given me a good bag of tools to help my clients strengthen and stabilize themselves out of pain patterns. The big eye opener was that my own struggles with back pain had taught me the physiological and social part as well. I was lucky to have been referred to a chiropractor at CMCC (Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College) who had clearly learned about the three areas of treatment while at school. He asked me to bring my mother in to one of my sessions to talk to her about my pain levels. He made sure my social circle understood what I was dealing with so I had the support I needed. I learned a lot about treating people from his example. 

At the end of the evening, I was offered a ride home by a good friend and college, and we both agreed that as Pilates professionals, we were already doing everything Paul Hodges was talking about. It was gratifying and satisfying to know that we “got it” and had been helping clients in this way for a long time. 

The world of physiotherapy is finally coming around to understanding what we Pilates peeps have known for a long time. I don’t think I’ll doubt myself quite as much anymore. 

Professor Paul Hodges, DSc, MedDr, BPhty(Hons), FACP 

Twitter: @paulwhodges