CLIENT: Colleen Evans
PERSONAL TRAINER: Shona Curley
LOCATION: Hasti Pilates, San Francisco
When Colleen Evans wanted to improve her strength while healing from Lyme disease, her doctor knew exactly who could help her: fellow patient and personal trainer Shona Curley.
Like Colleen, Curley had been diagnosed with Lyme disease and was coping with its symptoms.
“Some of the most common [symptoms] are extreme fatigue, pain that moves around the body, migraine-like headaches and neck stiffness,” Curley explains. “Colleen is working to improve all of these.”
Like Trainer, Like Client
As a fitness instructor with a certification in Pilates and a bachelor’s degree in dance, Curley is no stranger to working with the complex movements of the body. She drew from this expertise and her own experience with Lyme disease to craft Colleen’s program.
“I developed a protocol for cervical [post]rehabilitation years ago, experimenting on myself,” Curley says. “[My] protocols for working with Lyme headaches involve moving the lymph, blood and cranial fluid in the brain manually, as well as maintaining circulation in the neck and shoulders through stretching and exercise.”
Curley’s aim was first to improve alignment and strength in Colleen’s neck and shoulders, then to transition to abdominal and pelvic floor movements.
“We are able to do standing exercises using Pilates spring weights to strengthen her rhomboids, rotator cuffs, and the deeper postural muscles of the neck and upper spine,” Curley says. “As Colleen’s neck and shoulders have settled into better alignment, we have moved down her spine, creating length and strength through basic Pilates exercises.”
One critical concern during Colleen’s training is her energy level, because of the fatiguing effects of the disease, explains Curley. “Exhaustion is the Lyme challenge. We take it little by little and honor the cues Colleen’s body presents.”
When Colleen’s energy is depleted, Curley focuses on bodywork and on moving slowly to prevent flare-ups—necessary for making gradual improvements.
“As time has gone on and Colleen’s energy has increased, we have been able to incorporate more Pilates exercises,” says Curley.
Training for the Long Haul
For Colleen, sticking to the training program will be a long-term commitment while she manages her symptoms. But there’s been progress. “[She] has built enough strength now that she is able to exercise for at least half her sessions with me,” Curley shares. “As we progress, we will move into more full-body exercises that integrate good alignment throughout Colleen’s body.”
As for Curley, she hopes to inspire other personal trainers to educate themselves on Lyme disease so they can help their own clients.
“Trainers and bodyworkers have a lot to offer people with chronic illness,” she says. “We can be on the forefront of recognizing Lyme in particular—a vastly underdiagnosed disease.”
Curley suggests personal trainers be aware of Lyme disease symptoms and direct their clients to qualified professionals.
“Look for chronic pain patterns in your clients, especially in the neck and shoulders, that don’t have an obvious structural cause,” she explains. “If these kinds of patterns present along with fatigue, anxiety or gastrointestinal issues—and especially if your client remembers a tick bite—suggest seeking out a Lyme specialist.”
Curley also emphasizes the importance of always taking cues directly from the body—the guiding principle in her work with Colleen and all clients. “The body speaks to us consistently and clearly,” she says. “It is our job to listen, no matter how inconvenient the news.”
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