I’m excited to welcome a Pilates instructor with a unique voice and passion to Spiral Spine, Christie Schenk. For over 20 years Christie has been a nurse working with patient care experience in a variety of specialties including surgical nursing, pediatrics, and physical rehabilitation.
At Spiral Spine, her focus is using Pilates as a foundation to strategically improve movement and flexibility for those with spinal cord injuries (SCI) and other neurological conditions. Christie loves being able to hear someone’s story and collaborate with them to reach a milestone and achieve a goal, even after their traditional rehabilitation has ended and they aren’t sure if they can make additional improvements. She believes that every person with an SCI should feel empowered to learn as much as they can about their body so they can be a knowledgeable, active participant in everyday life.
If you have an SCI, or know of someone with one, I encourage you to book an appointment with Christie. Below, she shares some of her favorite ways to work with clients.
My specialty is working with clients with SCI and other neurological conditions. I believe Pilates is for everyone and every body, and there’s something for you in the studio.
One of the greatest things about Pilates is the countless ways you can modify an exercise to make it easier or harder to suit your needs. I have also found that in my niche of clients with SCI who often have finicky bodies, the Pilates framework works well to counteract tone and spasticity; work on the components of gait; and isolate, activate, and stabilize certain muscle groups, depending on one’s condition and situation. Plus, it can be a great tool for working on core and balance.
Here are three of my favorite exercises for clients with SCI, along with some suggestions for modifications.
Mermaid on the Cadillac/Trapeze Table
Sit in the middle of the long side of the trapeze table and put your hand on the push-through bar, sprung from above. Grab the bar with an overhand grip and bent elbow, pull downwards in a smooth motion. As the bar comes closer to your body, you’ll transition to pushing it away from you in a downward motion. As you push, lengthen your spine and curve your body to the side, reaching your other arm overhead. Allow your ribs on the open side to expand and fill with air and hold for a few seconds. Reverse your motion and come back to your starting position. You can also twist your torso toward the bar and grip the bar with both hands. Keep your pelvis planted on the mat. If you need additional help with balance or raising your arm above your head, a buddy can sit behind you to support your torso and help with movement. You can also place your feet on a long box for more support
Since many people with SCI spend a lot of time seated, their hips are often in external rotation. Try Mermaid in a Z-sit position (see photo to right) to internally rotate one of the femurs and help stretch the pelvic floor, lower back, hip flexors, quad, and inner thigh. You can also sit cross-legged.
Feel empowered to play around with positioning to see what works for you!
Seated Cat/Cadillac/Trapeze Table
Sit facing the push-through bar, sprung from above, with your feet touching the vertical bars and your legs straight. Grab the bar in an overhand grip and pull it down toward you. As it comes close to your body, you’ll make the transition to pushing it. As you push, curl your spine forward, one vertebra at a time until you reach your max. Then slowly uncurl, one vertebra at a time, and control the bar as it goes to the starting position. If pushing a bar with a spring is too difficult, do this without a spring.
This movement is excellent for working on dynamic balance and can also be done without arching and curling. You will likely need a spotter nearby. Having the legs out in front of the body stretches the hamstrings, which can shorten if you spend a lot of time seated. If this is uncomfortable, you can straddle the table for an inner thigh stretch, sit cross-legged, or sit in a Z-sit for external rotation.
Standing Side Kicks and Side Splits on CoreAlign for Ambulatory SCI Client
Stand with one foot on the stable, non-moving platform, and one foot on the cart with a medium resistance. Hold on to something for balance. Slightly bend both knees and slide the cart out, focusing on controlling the movement both out and in. Try not to let the cart “clunk” when it returns. After a handful of reps, shift to a straight leg stance and move your whole body out on the cart by pushing off with your stationary platform leg. Feel free to change the range of motion or add pulses to the movement. After a handful of reps repeat on the other side.
For SCI clients who are ambulatory, the CoreAlign is a great tool to assist with stability, gait patterning, and the muscles for standing, walking, and turning.
I look forward to working with you and finding out how Pilates can help your body.