Guest post by Kristy Ahale, Clinical Exercise Therapist & Founder of The Postpartum Method

I was so blessed to meet Kristy Ahale at my mothers group of all places! Since then she has taught me so much! I completed her course and was able to heal a FOUR FINGER Abdominal Separation! You can read all about it here in my recent post. What excites me the most about this is that while most women are recommended surgery for it, with Kristy’s teachings, I was able to prevent it!

So here you hear it from Kristy herself, how Exercise can alleviate pain….

A little over 15 years ago I had severe, chronic back pain.   It was debilitating enough that I would go home from work in the middle of the day to lie down, then come back and work til late to make up the time.

The thing was though, was that I was really strong.   I had danced for nearly 20 years and I still taught fitness classes every day. 

I had studied exercise science at university and knew all about building strength – or so I thought.

I then discovered (through further study) that there was a difference between “fitness industry” exercise and “exercise therapy”. 

And the difference was stability.

Neuromuscular stabilisation refers to our body’s ability to keep joints in their optimal position using three things –

Specific muscles known as the inner unit

The nervous system

The connective tissue

When these three things are working together properly, each joint (including the spine) rotates and moves optimally.

When they aren’t working together, the joints move in sub-optimal ways, and the body uses what’s called compensations.

These are the 2 main compensatory mechanisms we use:

It will tighten up the strongest muscle around the joint as a protective mechanism

It will alter the way you move in an attempt to prevent injuries.

These 2 things, when left unaddressed, can create dozens of imbalances.

Imbalances that start at one joint (like the knee) and then slowly over time cascade throughout the body, eventually giving you trouble in the hip, the lower back, then the neck.

And what it feels like, when some muscles are constantly tight and irritated, and some aren’t working is:

  • Tension, turning into trigger points
  • Tightness that keeps coming back
  • Pain

People who experiencing chronic back pain (over a long period) commonly have some serious imbalances going on.   If they exercise, then all of their big strong, outer muscles are working well.  Things like the erector spinae muscles in the back and the rectus abdominis in the torso (responsible for crunches)  kick in and take over for the work that the inner unit muscles need to do to stabilise the spine – and therefore prevent pain.

When we train the same muscles over and over again, leaving out others, we develop asymmetries at the joint.

So what can we do about it?

1 – Start with the inner unit in the core (show image)

2 – Add training that forces your body to use the stability muscles

If you spend a lot of time on gym machines like the leg press, change it up and try a free standing squat instead.   Our inner unit muscles don’t need to do anything while we are fully supported lying back on a machine.  When we get up and work against gravity,

3 – Understand that connective tissue takes time to strengthen – more than muscles do, and pace your program

Re-training the body can take time.  It can take hundreds of repetitions to engage a muscle that hasn’t been working for a long time and have it automate – i.e – it kicks in by itself in daily life. 

This is especially true of the glute muscles which are essential in keeping the spine stable, and the multifidus muscles, which keep each vertebrae in it’s optimal position.

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Kristy Ahale is a Clinical Exercise Therapist.

She has been in the field of orthpaedic rehabilitation for over 10 years, and is the founder of The Postpartum Method Core and Pelvic Floor Program.