Helping our backs get better with Restore and Reform

After a botched spinal fusion and decompression operation which left her with severely damaged nerves in both her legs, Carla McKay went on her second recovery holiday with Restore & Reform, this time at La Maison Du Chateau in Burgundy with her husband, and found physio, Pilates, massage and good French wine just the ticket for her continued recovery.

This was my second recovery holiday with Restore & Reform (they have several repeat customers) but the first at their heavenly new venue in France. The company runs bespoke rehabilitation programmes for clients trying to recover from surgery, illness or pregnancy, or those who want to address long-term pain issues. It had been over a year since I had a botched spinal fusion and decompression operation which left me with severely damaged nerves in both my legs and facing a future in which I might never walk normally again.

I first went to a Restore and Reform holiday in Portugal six months after the operation and it turned out to be instrumental in accelerating my post-operative progress. So much so that even though I am now walking pretty well (with still a few issues) I thought it would still be very beneficial and couldn’t wait to show off the progress I had made to Michelle and Lucy.

This time we were a group of six. Two other women had recently had spinal fusion operations. Theirs had gone well but both were cautious about exercising and not sure about how much they would be able to do. One lady had flown in all the way from San Francisco. She was totally fit and had done lots of Pilates beforehand but simply wanted a holiday in the sun with daily Pilates thrown in. One of the men wanted some muscular problems sorted out and the other one (my husband) had simply accompanied me for the holiday but was determined not to exercise (about which more later).

We arrived one Saturday evening in June and gathered by the pool for a welcome drink and to introduce ourselves. On Sunday we all had individual hour-long appointments with Michelle, the talented physiotherapist, to determine what we wanted to get out of the week physically and what needed to be worked on. She massaged my damaged legs, marvelling at the muscle tone I had acquired since Portugal (thanks to Pilates and physio). It was established I needed to work on balance and especially ankle work since some of my nerves still hadn’t rejuvenated in my feet and ankles. This appointment was a postural and biomechanical assessment, which then formed the basis for Michelle’s daily ‘restore class’ in which, working with foam rollers (excellent for alignment, balance and core strength) and small weights, she monitored us individually and gave us appropriate exercises for our different conditions.

I enjoyed this class enormously, even though I was made to do many repetitions of my least favourite exercises – lunges and squats – which, I have to say, paid off in terms of ability handsomely. It was great to see how the two other women really gained in confidence during these classes as they began to understand how important it was to exercise their backs in a controlled way and how instead of possibly damaging their backs still further, it greatly improved their mobility. I recalled that I too had been afraid of moving my newly fused spine at the beginning, imagining all that hardware inside falling out of place.

This common fear was swiftly dispatched by Lucy who had been Michelle’s patient several years ago after multi-level spinal surgery. In fact, this was how Restore and Reform was born. Lucy was finding it hard to get back to normal life and work after her complex surgery and wanted intensive physio-led rehabilitation preferably in the sun – something that did not exist in this country which mostly fails to have joined up thinking about post-operative care.

‘The girls had worked their magic on my husband too, whom I found unexpectedly on a mat admitting a little sheepishly that he ‘quite liked’ Pilates and thought he may need it after all as an insurance policy against ageing’

So beneficial did Lucy find the combination of Pilates and Physio that she did with Michelle every day that she re-trained as a Reformer Pilates instructor and added this important dimension to the programme offered. Don’t be put off Reformer machines if you have never encountered them. They are an excellent way to exercise against resistance completely safely and with control. Doing Reformer Pilates after my operation was particularly good as you can target one specific area (building up my legs again) or use it as a whole body muscular exercise. People find it especially effective for relieving pain associated with physical imbalances such as back pain, as well as for overall strength and flexibility. As a convert, Lucy is a passionate and disciplined teacher in whose hands you can feel very safe. This too, was a daily class for two people at a time.

The other daily class for everyone was a lovely stretch class with Ellen who is also R & R’s soft tissue massage therapist. You get two of these terrific massages in the week and in addition I indulged in a very relaxing (and some would say necessary) facial with Ellen who is also a trained beauty therapist. Meanwhile, the girls had worked their magic on my husband whom I found unexpectedly on a mat admitting a little sheepishly that he ‘quite liked’ Pilates and thought he may need it after all as an insurance policy against ageing. Michelle told me later that she had promised him that his golf swing would benefit from releasing his muscle-bound back!

Given the amount of intensive exercise we were doing, the team also laid on two mobility classes in which to learn how to massage out our sore muscles using small balls and foam rollers. It was also completely wonderful to be provided with Delphine’s sublime freshly cooked food, to which we added our own equally sublime wine from one of the great wine regions of the world.

The team laid on an enthusiastic British ex-pat wine expert, Brendan, who gave us an excellent introduction to the great wines of Burgundy on the Sunday night with tastings of eight superb wines which, being British and wine lovers rather than wine experts, we imbibed a great deal of rather than spitting it out. Even more interesting was a short trip we all took with Brendan to the world-famous vineyards of Chablis, where we tasted wine at three or four of the great family-run wine houses and purchased said wine afterwards at astonishingly low prices given what we have to pay in the UK for the same wine marked up heavily by tax. It was an absolute highlight of the week.

Our final individual session with Michelle summed up our progress and laid out exercise priorities for the future. Personally, I felt that both my balance and my lunges were both hugely improved and I had benefited so much (as we all had) from daily repeated exercise which helped to offset all the food and drink! Lucy and Michelle have certainly hit on a winning formula. I’m already anxious to book again.