When I first met Beth, a world-class Irish dancer, she was struggling with chronic back pain, hamstrings that seemed to be forever out to lunch and frequent falls because she couldn’t trust her feet underneath her. She also had a bone in the arch of her foot that frequently stuck out and it hurt so much she had to take breaks at her dance classes.
Beth was very active, training many hours a week and diligently did her physio program. She told me she was always worried about when her back pain would return, whether she would fall at competition taking her out of the running, and if her foot pain would mean she couldn’t do the intense training she needed to prepare to compete.
Her breathing was also a concern. She would often end her dance and tell everyone she didn’t breathe the whole time. That seemed like a long list of frustrations and painful spots for an elite young dancer.
We started off by getting her better acquainted with the ground under her feet and getting that bone in her arch back where it belongs.
With a mix of in person and virtual appointments, we worked on giving her brain no choice but to feel her hamstrings. It turned out that the sleepy hamstrings, the back pain and the breath holding habit were very connected. She had a habit of sucking her abdomen and arching her lower back when she inhaled and using her neck when anything got slightly challenging. All of these patterns messed with the pressures inside her chest and abdomen which meant that her pelvis and lower back had no solid connection to what was going on up above.
I got her to use her hamstrings and not her back muscles, in coordination with the correct sequences during her inhales and exhales to get the pressure back where it belonged and give her hamstrings their job back.
Now, as you see in the photo, Beth has a much better sense of the ground under her feet, she is able to breathe without using her bossy back muscles and her hamstrings know what their job is.
Beth is still a work in progress. She still uses her neck to breathe when I progress an exercise and she finds it really challenging to not use her back muscles. But she no longer has any pain or worries about falling.
Her mother exclaimed a how quickly everything changed for her and how relatively simple the issues were. Beth told me she wished she had done this work while she was still in the competitive circuit as there is no telling how much better she might have done and how less worried she would have been about her body.