Life Stories, Wellness, Life

How Pilates saved me from surgery

No pain, no gain? The pain isn't worth it...

Most 19-year-olds don’t really think about hip replacements…unless you’re someone like me. Weak, cracking joints, severe lack of muscle, and terrible posture have left my body feeling like I’m actually 91 years old.

I was a Varsity basketball athlete in high school, believe it or not. Basketball kept me refreshed and happy, giving me a break from my studies. But my joints were definitely not happy. One morning my senior year, my right hip let loose the biggest crack I’ve heard in my life. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t move my leg. My mom picked me up from school at 9 a.m. to take me to the hospital. I heard snippets of conversation shared between the nurses and my mom as I waited to be wheeled into the x-ray room: potential surgery. Words couldn’t describe how terrified I was.

By noon, I was (luckily) hobbling out the doors on crutches, not lying on an operation table. I’m not on crutches anymore, but my hips still sound like something is breaking inside every time they crack. If I sit down for too long at my desk, I limp because of cramps in my right hip. Unfortunately, I didn’t go into physical therapy after the season had ended. I had assumed that once I didn’t need crutches, I was going to be fine.

Group of four smiling women wearing sports bras and yoga pants at a fitness studio doing pilates with purple resistance bands.
[Image description: Group of four smiling women wearing sports bras and yoga pants at a fitness studio doing pilates with purple resistance bands.] Via Bruce Mars on Unsplash
Definitely not fine. Abort mission. This pain is what led me to Pilates and yoga. I first discovered Pilates when my mom started taking classes; a new studio opened near our apartment three years ago. Nothing feels better than stretching out your hip ligaments in a half-pigeon pose after a full day of classes. In retrospect, if it weren’t for Pilates, I may have been up for a hip surgery very soon. Since college, chronic pain in my joints has gotten worse and more consistent. Pilates didn’t just soothe pain and improve my posture. It helped me save a lot of money and even more suffering.

I want to recommend everyone to try Pilates at least once in their lives—it’s that good. A lot of us spend most of our time sitting down: at desks, in cubicles, on the bus or the metro. Not all of us have held crutches at the ripe age of 18, but we all sure know how stiff and suffocating sitting and staring at computer screens all day can be. Think about it: when we are sitting down, our hip ligaments are being constantly folded at a 90-degree angle, and they are straightened when we are standing up. This constant cramping and folding of the ligaments cause them to shorten, which is what causes stiffness and pain. For this reason, stretching is so important for us.

Even as you’re reading this, stand up and give a good stretch, raising your arms above your head, and leaning to one side… and the next. Take a deep breath. Let it out. There, doesn’t that feel so much better? At home, I want you to sit on your bed, cross one leg in front of you, stretch the other straight out behind you. Keep your back straight. This is the half-pigeon pose that I highly recommend. And if it hurts like the dickens as it does for me, I suggest doing the pose every evening before bed.

I like Pilates more than yoga because Pilates focuses more on building muscle.  I don’t have enough muscle in comparison to my body ratio, which was another reason why I was injured. My body had no support or protection when bone hit nerve that morning during my senior year (I know, it sounds gross). Workouts like side leg raises, leg circles, Pilates hundred, criss-cross, and scissor kicks helped me gain a little core and thigh muscles. I don’t work out regularly, but I really feel the difference in pain levels when I do Pilates versus when I don’t.

Woman holding dumbbells standing on a reformer in a Pilates studio.
[Image description: Woman holding dumbbells standing on a reformer in a Pilates studio.] Via Maddi Bazzoco on Unsplash
Pilates can be gentle and easy, or a real workout when done rigorously, and it was a life saver for me. The last thing I need right now is a metal and plastic ball-and-socket as a teenager.