Jewelry maker Marissa Alperin laid down her tools and flexed her fingers, gazing proudly at the gorgeous gold necklace she’d finally finished. Looking up at the clock, she winced as she realized she had spent the past three hours hunched over her workbench — and she knew what that meant. “Whenever I moved from sitting to standing, the pain would come,” recalls Marissa. “My entire back and neck would feel stiff, sore and tight. It was so uncomfortable.
“For much of my life, aches and pains weren’t an issue. I’ve had a jewelry business for 18 years, and every day, I go into the shop and spend up to three hours at a time hunched over a table working with tiny gems. But as I approached 40, I started to experience back pain.
“Years of creating while bent over my workbench had worsened my posture, so I could never fully straighten my back. And I would feel intense stiffness and tightness in my upper back, neck and shoulders that would linger as I tried to go about the rest of my day. The pain would subside if I stayed standing, but every time I bent over to pick up groceries or care for my kids, the pain would return.
“The tightness in my neck also started giving me headaches, and I struggled to focus my eyes on the gems and tools of my craft, turning the work I’ve always loved into an unpleasant and painful experience.
“I took Advil on really uncomfortable days, but I didn’t want to become too dependent on it. I also tried sitting on a lower stool and even an exercise ball, but they hindered my ability to create jewelry, so I returned to my original seat and workbench. I told myself that the pain was a normal result of having kids and getting older, and I just had to learn to live with it.
Relief at Last
“One day about five years ago, I was chatting with a friend about the worsening pain in my back and neck, and she told me about Carey Macaleer at Aline Pilates, a studio in our neighborhood that offers private sessions. She was doing Pilates with Carey and suggested that I try it.
“At first, I balked at the idea — I had never owned sneakers, let alone exercised, and I didn’t see how Pilates could help me. But my friend was persistent — she had gotten tons of benefits from Pilates, and she wanted me to experience them too. So eventually, I scheduled a session with Carey.
“Before my first meeting with Carey, I was nervous and worried I wouldn’t be able to do the exercises. My body felt very stiff, so I was skeptical. And despite focusing on small movements, I was breathing hard during that first session. My posture was so out of whack that the positions she put me in left me feeling sore the next day. But unlike the tightness and stiffness I was used to, this was a good sore that felt like I had been working my muscles, so I decided to schedule more sessions.
“Over time, Carey helped me open up my chest and shoulders and straighten my back and neck. She also encouraged me to stand up more throughout the day, so I started taking breaks from my work every 30 to 45 minutes instead of my usual every two to three hours.
“I began doing Pilates regularly once or twice a week, either in a private session or a joint session with a friend. Gradually, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling as stiff when I got up from my work bench. And after about six months, the pain was gone!
“The improvement was eyeopening: As my soreness disappeared, it showed me that what I was experiencing wasn’t a normal result of aging. And in fact, it was a problem that I could fix. My headaches and trouble focusing also vanished. Pilates even healed the abdominal separation caused by my pregnancies and gave me a waistline I’d never had.
“I still practice Pilates once or twice a week, and I’m still totally pain-free. My new reality even inspired me to purchase my first pair of sneakers — and those sneakers will carry me through my first half marathon this year. I got a new lease on life. I feel so fortunate to have found Pilates, and I couldn’t be happier!”
For a pilates sequence that can help you eliminate pain and tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back right at home, checkout this free YouTube video from Pilates for the People!
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.