Recovering well with Restore & Reform post-surgery retreat in Portugal
After undergoing spinal fusion surgery which went wrong, Carla McKay reviews an amazing Restore & Reform post-surgery retreat at Anantara Vilamoura spa hotel in Portugal and finds an exceptional team who give her the strength and hope that she will walk properly again.
I wouldn’t wish an operation on anyone – anyone I liked at any rate – but if you’ve got to have one then make sure you book a ‘recovery holiday’ a few months later. By which I don’t mean going to any old spa and having hot pebbles plonked on your back, but a truly bespoke, medically accredited holiday in the sun designed specifically to help restore those who have had spinal, hip, shoulder, knee or foot/ankle surgery or injury and want to accelerate their recovery.
Restore and Reform, a young and innovative company, run by a gifted London-based physiotherapist, Michelle Lewis, and her former patient Lucy Nifontova, offers such holidays in the Algarve sunshine several times a year and is excitingly different from anything else on offer.
Like many good ideas, it started with someone having a terrible time, looking round for something or someone to fix it, and finding none. In this case, Lucy, who had persistent back pain and severely degenerated spinal discs with an underlying condition of hypermobility, and who had had complex spinal fusion surgery from which she was finding it hard to recover.
Eventually, she found a physiotherapist she could work with and trust and then looked around for a holiday in the sun where she could combine rest and relaxation with an effective recuperative physical regime based around physio, pilates (especially Reformer Pilates) and soft tissue therapy advocated by Michelle. Since none was forthcoming, she and Michelle decided to plug that gap in the market and Restore and Reform was created with specialist programmes created in conjunction with orthopaedic surgeons in each of the disciplines.
In May 2018 R & R took their first group to the Anantara luxury spa hotel in the Algarve. This chimed nicely with me, because I’d had a spinal fusion and decompression operation at the end of April which went badly wrong, severely damaging nerves in both my legs, leaving me hospitalised for 10 nights with horrific pain, and then facing a future uncertain as to whether I would ever walk properly again. I was far too weak to consider going on the July retreat they were running, but by October I felt ready to benefit from R & R’s post-operative programme, having regained quite a lot of strength through both intensive physiotherapy and by recently shedding my crutches in favour of a more discreet walking stick. I was no longer in pain, but my left leg (the more damaged one) was still giving me problems, in that my calf muscles and ankle muscles were still weak, preventing me from a normal gait.
It’s always a leap of faith to put yourself in the hands of strangers, but this one well and truly paid off. We were a group of ten doing the recovery programme. I thought everyone might be fresh out of the operating theatre, but several had had surgery some time before and some just needed to address long term injuries and other physical issues. Others were either preparing for surgery or about to take part in a marathon.
The timetable was intensive but all the more effective for that and totally manageable, especially as you could relax in the sun inbetween. Each day I had a personal physiotherapy session with Michelle, a Pilates class with four others led by Michelle, focussing on mat based work, a stretch class on a gorgeous veranda at the top of the hotel, and either a Reformer Pilates individual session with Lucy (a Stott-trained Reformer and Pilates teacher) or a soft tissue therapy massage with Abi, a Level 5 Sport Rehabilitator.
‘What was lovely was the sense that this was no ordinary commercial venture, but an enterprise born of genuine desire to help people at a time when they are most vulnerable. Bad habits were unpicked, problem areas ironed out, and, most importantly of all, we all felt supported, educated, motivated and inspired’
The R & R team emphasise that diagnosis is not the whole story. They treat symptoms rather than the pathology. As a coherent team, they discuss each individual at the end of each day, bounce ideas off each other and tailor their individual programmes accordingly. Impressively, before I arrived, they had liaised with my physios and doctors at home, even visiting the surgeon who performed my operation.
All of us had informed the team of our goals at the beginning, and whilst none of us expected to achieve them all in a short space of time, everyone I spoke to felt that they had really made progress. Bad habits were unpicked, problem areas ironed out, and, most importantly of all, we all felt supported, educated, motivated and inspired. Countless times, I heard people say ‘I never thought that I could do that’, or ‘they’ve given me such hope/confidence’, or ‘I can move so much better’. Nobody had a less than positive experience, whether it was in increasing mobility, lessening pain and inflammation or discovering the unbeatable value of Pilates.
Everyone in the team was amazing in their expertise, enthusiasm and dedication. What was lovely was the sense that this was no ordinary commercial venture, but an enterprise born of genuine desire to help people at a time when they are most vulnerable.
As for myself, my walking improved to the point where I pretty well ditched my stick (and, indeed, often forgot to take it with me). Since the hotel corridors were very long, I got all the practice I needed walking, and could relax by the swimming pool when I wasn’t. At the end, I was furnished with a personal programme of advice and exercise that I should continue with at home. Best of all, though, I was given hope that I would walk normally again one day.