Back Pain – Neck Pain – High performance South African Sailing

Thirteen years ago at age 33 I was diagnosed with early arthritis by my family doctor and prescribed drugs. I had been suffering from an acute stiff neck for months and thought it was simply from years of abuse as a competitive sailor doing the wrong kind of training without adequate coaching and physical training advice. I took the drugs for a few months but felt like a hypocrite to my anti-drugs philosophy and common sense. So I looked at alternatives and came across an osteopath in Johannesburg, Dr Pleass. After a few treatments and some sage advise, I was soon off the drugs, on some effective homeopathic alternatives for a while and participating in regular yoga classes. My neck pain subsided, my flexibility returned and I soon felt young and virile again.

I have subsequently sailed in two world championships finishing 2nd in both, become a Kundalini yoga teacher and a youth sailing coach. For a time I was the national High Performance Manager for South African Sailing responsible for setting up training programmes for our country’s top sailors to compete in world championships and the 2012 Olympic Games. I tried in vain to convince the authorities and the athletes to consider alternatives for physical fitness and recovery without much success. Two years ago, for personal reasons, I gave up on my yoga practice and in fact stopped exercising completely. It took it’s toll. By the end of 2012, my body felt like that of an old woman, aches and pains all over, especially in my hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. After an attempt to play squash with my teenage son, my neck went back into the age-old spasm of 13 years before and I went to a chiropractor for treatment, which I found did little and felt incomplete. I joined a gym and started “training” as well as started mountain biking. A few months later my lower back and hips started giving me problems until 3 weeks before The Argus, which I had entered, I was unable to lie flat on my back or stomach, barely able to walk and suffered from severe spasms with the slightest movements. I remembered my earlier success with osteopathy and started looking for a good one in Cape Town when I found Dr Guy Ashburner. My first appointment was already a huge relief as I felt Dr Ashburner really did ask all the right questions and got straight to the core of my problem, two years of inactivity and huge stress causing all my back muscles to be so tense that my entire body structure rested on the bottom few vertebrae. Three treatments and some sage advise later and I was not only relieved of my spasms and my back and neck pain, but I was able to ride The Argus and finish the race.

Over the past few years I have been exposed intimately with high performance sports training at one of the country’s leading sports institutes and I have known many top sailors over many years. Sports Science is certainly a revolution compared to 25years ago, but I do believe it has a long way to go still to fully understand and integrate the knowledge and sage wisdom of osteopathy. My advise to sailors of all ages and at all levels, and in fact to all sports persons at any level and any age, is to look at training, maintenance of fitness and recovery from the perspective of a qualified and good osteopath like Guy Ashburner rather than sports scientists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and especially inexperienced gym personal trainers. Despite their good intensions, your health and wellbeing is not worth the damage that can be done from poor training, inadequate maintenance and poor recovery advise.

Belinda Hayward

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