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Surgery, Solutions and Success

Client: Jann
Personal Trainer: Lisa Knighton, owner, Knighton’s Cardio-Fit
Location: Athens, Georgia

Creating a Bond. Lisa Knighton, personal trainer and owner of Knighton’s Cardio-Fit, first met Jann about 10 years ago. Knighton was teaching fitness classes for her local community. Jann, an avid exerciser, asked Knighton if she would teach her and her co-workers from the University of Georgia’s Georgia Center. “Soon after Jann began attending these employee classes, she approached me about my one-on-one training services,” recalls Knighton. “Jann was enthusiastic and eager to become more fit.” Her goals were simple: improve cardiovascular fitness and shoulder flexibility and drop a dress size.

On top of working together privately, Jann continued taking Knighton’s group exercise classes. In 2003, Knighton opened a home-based studio and Jann followed.

Giving in to Pain. At the beginning of 2009, Jann suffered a setback. “She began to experience pain in her left hip and low back,” says Knighton. “She kept taking a Pilates class at my studio until late March 2009, when the pain in her low back became unbearable.” The pain was so severe that Jann grudgingly stopped attending all her group exercise classes. To gain relief, she worked with a physical therapist and received massages regularly. “In mid April she had an MRI, and it was determined that she had a synovial cyst and some mild degeneration of her lumbar spine,” Knighton states. “According to Jann, no activity—including sitting—was possible.” Jann had difficulty getting into bed and was forced to sleep on her back on top of ice packs.

Eventually, Jann decided to have the cyst removed. “Her surgery involved cutting the spine in two places. The bone removed was crushed and inserted into a sling so that Jann could generate her own bone marrow. The disks were fused with four screws and one rod.” Postsurgery, Jann was prohibited from bending, lifting or twisting for 7 weeks.

Confronting Fears. Several months after surgery, Jann returned to Knighton’s studio with a new set of objectives. “Her goal at this time was to return to Pilates classes by summer,” says Knighton. Jann also sought improved back range of motion and core strength, reduced pain and elimination of prescription pain medications.

Before she could realize these goals, Jann was forced to face newfound fears. “She was honest. We talked about the fear of harming the surgical area and fear of pain, fear of not returning to strength,” recalls Knighton. Simple exercises that Jann had performed to perfection now seemed impossible; Jann had lost the mind-body connection. “At that point, I began to pay more attention to Jann’s body, not just to what she was telling me verbally. We talked about the muscles she needed to think about; which muscles created the movement; which muscles assisted; and which muscles stabilized.”

Beginning Again. “We began [training] slowly, starting with basic bridge and pelvic movements while sitting on a stability ball, adding in smooth and slow transitions from standing to getting down to the floor to standing again,” says Knighton. “We also focused on stretching and relaxing her low back, hips and legs.”

The slow pace proved successful, and Jann felt comfortable enough to swim several times per week. As her range of motion and strength improved, more challenging exercises, like planks and push-ups, were added to the program.

Pushing Forward. By the end of summer there wasn’t much that Knighton and Jann hadn’t tried, and Jann was ready to return to all the fitness classes she had enjoyed prior to surgery. “She is more flexibile in her low back than she was a few months after surgery, but not as flexibile as she was before surgery,” adds Knighton. “There is a small amount of stiffness in her low back, and we are aware that this may be the new norm.” Jann has discontinued use of the pain medications.

Jann admits that the process has been difficult. “It would have been so easy to become discouraged,” she says. “If I had not worked with a trainer, my limitations would be too long to list. Life’s future might have been a series of complaints and probably medications.”

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