Suffering with a degenerative spinal condition has meant Estelle Packer, 47, has been living with chronic neck pain for the last seven years. “I was a gymnast when I was younger and had a lot of wear and tear in my spine for my age, and specifically in my neck. I was diagnosed with Cervical Spondylosis in 2011.”
After trying different experts to try to alleviate the pain, Estelle had reached rock bottom. Realising that the NHS could offer her very little to help, she began her own research into what was on offer locally in Kingston and stumbled across YMCA Hawker’s Back Care Pilates class online.
“I thought I would try the class as the pain has affected every part of my life. I have a very active job as a teaching assistant in a primary school in Kingston with 7-8 year olds and children with special educational needs. I’m a single mum too, so I need to keep myself as fit and healthy as I can.
“I had heard a lot about Pilates and I spoke to staff here and decided to try it. It was about four to five weeks into the class that I had a lightbulb moment and realised exactly how I should be doing the exercises and how they would benefit me.”
YMCA Hawker’s Back Care Pilates instructor is Kate Collister. Kate has a Level 3 qualification in Pilates, and additional specialist qualifications including Bone Health, Exercise for the Older Adult and Level 4 Movement and Adaptations. As a Bone Health Specialist, Kate has also completed Healthy Backs courses focusing specifically on the causes, prevention and management of back and neck pain.
“I try to make the class different each week. I start by checking how everyone is, assuming that most people in the class are experiencing some degree of pain. This enables me to know who I might need to keep an extra eye on or offer further modifications to,” says Kate. “We might start with some release work with gentle mobilisation of the neck and shoulders, moving on to stability for the spine and pelvis, followed by strengthening work for the core, upper back, legs and glutes.”
Back Care Pilates – more than just mobility
Estelle feels she has learnt from Instructor Kate that she needs to be mobile, listen to her body and stretch. “It’s not just a mobility class. It’s a whole lesson about the spine, how it works, how important it is for women to switch on the core, and how strengthening the abdominal muscles helps support the spine.”
All those who attend the Back Care Pilates class are encouraged to move at their own speed, depending on their level of pain and mobility. “Everyone should do a Back Care Pilates class, regardless of their age. We’re all looking down at our phones and not thinking about the spine. The methodical, slow and repetitive movements are so effective. I really feel I am progressing. I can even do sit-ups now because Kate has taught us the technique plus I’ve learnt so much about breathing,” says Estelle.
Kate is pleased to see that the classes are really helping local people in the community to manage their back pain. “I love teaching these classes, they are so varied and I can see that people are benefitting. The Back Care Pilates classes are sociable too and help address the isolation that chronic pain can inflict on people. Those who come to my classes are very supportive of each other,” says Kate.