How Karen Conquered her Back Pain

“By the time that my spinal consultant told me about Restore and Reform, I’d had every test under the sun to diagnose my back pain”

Karen joined R&R at the suggestion of her consultant, to help ease her undiagnosed back pain.  Here is her story. 

by Lucy Nifontova

Karen’s back pain had persisted for almost a deckade

Karen had suffered from back pain for almost a decade.  Previously very fit and active with excellent mobility, her back pain had started to take its toll on her daily life.  “I used to be able to roll down and put both of my hands on the floor.  By September last year I had reached a breaking point.  I struggled to turn-over in bed or get out of a car and couldn’t bend down to unload the dishwasher, or take the chicken out of the oven when I was cooking a Sunday roast for my family.  I loved Pilates and had been doing it for years but it had got to the point where I had to stop because I couldn’t turn over on the Pilates mat during a class”.

Karen became increasingly frustrated as she underwent a number of tests in the quest to diagnose the cause of her back pain.  “You name it, I had it done”, she says.  I saw what felt like a telephone directory’s worth of specialists.  I had X-rays, MRIs, you name it.  I had every test under the sun.  Whilst it was uncovered that my lumbar vertebral discs are degenerated (which is very common), this didn’t seem to be the cause of my pain or at the root of my immobility.”    Karen had three rounds of spinal injections (anti-inflammatory injections which can have a pain-relieving effect and are used as a diagnostic tool) since 2010 and a denervation in 2018. 

“I have always believed that physiotherapy is undervalued”

“Despite this, my pain persisted.  I had been told to do some physio sessions and saw some excellent physiotherapists in London.  However, with the model of healthcare in the UK of just six sessions of thirty-minute physio appointments, it wasn’t going to cut it.”  Her consultant gave her the details of Restore and Reform and suggested that she should contact them to see if an intensive week of physio, Pilates and soft tissue therapy on their Back Pain Retreat could help her with her pain.

Three weeks after an initial telephone call with Lucy Nifontova, co-founder of Restore and Reform and a previous back pain sufferer, Karen boarded a plane to Faro.  “I did believe that this could help me with my pain.  I have always believed that physiotherapy is under estimated and hugely underappreciated.”   

A morning Stretch class with rolling views of the golf course at Anantara Vilamoura

Adopted movement patters to protect the back, were in fact straining it and exacerbating Karen’s problems

Over 6 days and 7 nights Karen received 18 hours of rehab, all led by physiotherapist Michelle Lewis, co-founder and Lead Physio of R&R.  In her initial hour-long physiotherapy assessment with Michelle, it was noted that Karen had adopted a way of moving that, despite her believing she was protecting her back, she was in fact putting more strain through it.  This was causing further pain and movement restriction.  

“Karen had good core strength, and good mobility, but was lacking core stability and control” says Michelle. “She had developed weakness in her hips and thighs as a result of decreased activity, and this was causing her to put more load through her back.”  A plan was put in place to build up the strength and stability in her lower limbs, and to work on changing her movement patterns, so that she would work her body as a ‘whole’ and not continually aggravate her back.  Karen notes “I did have faith in the team, but I hadn’t realised that they’d be so good!”  During her physiotherapy assessment Karen also listed her goals for the week, amongst which was to be able to bend over and take a chicken out of the oven unaided again.

“We leverage each other’s expertise to achieve the best results for our clients”

“One of the most rewarding things of being part of the R&R team is that we have a team meeting every day to discuss each of our client’s progress and to make sure that they are on track to achieving their goals.  It allows us to leverage each other’s expertise in each area of specialism to achieve the best results for our clients” says Lucy, also R&R’s lead Pilates instructor.  “I’ll never forget the evening in Portugal where we had a physiotherapist, a Pilates instructor, a soft tissue and sports injury specialist and a former back pain sufferer, holding a baking tray on the balcony of the staff residence, breaking down the movements that Karen would require to be able to take a chicken out of the oven.  We invented a sequence of exercises (now called “The Karen”) on the Reformer machine, which was able to give her the tools to do this.” 

“The programme is physically and mentally tiring and you must commit on both of these levels”

nifontova reformer restore

Despite being wary of the reformer Pilates machine, Karen was soon put at ease

By day four, Karen, who was an intermittent sleeper because of her back pain, remembers that she woke up in the middle of the night and realised that she was not in pain.  “It was the first time in years that this had happened.  The programme is hard work, it is physically and mentally tiring and you must commit on both of these levels.  You have to reteach your body to do things in a different way, to correct movement and to hold yourself properly.  However, I realised very quickly that it was all worth it and that I was only going to get out of it what I put into it”.


“I always felt safe and I was prepared to try everything”

“The hotel was lovely, the programme was amazing and I loved all of my classes.  But of paramount importance is that I always felt ‘safe’.  I never felt that the Restore and Reform team would ask me to do something that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do, and because of this I was prepared to try everything.  It was such a safe exercise environment and I knew I wasn’t going to injure myself or to exacerbate my existing problems” says Karen.  She returned to the UK rested, almost pain free, with more mobility and buckets of confidence to continue the good work she’d started. 


Six weeks after Karen had completed her programme with Restore and Reform, the team received a message from Karen informing them that on Christmas day she’d been able to bend over and take an entire stuffed turkey out of the oven.  “This is what makes our business so worthwhile”, Lucy says.  “When we hear from clients that they’ve met their goals and have regained normal function, it reminds us of the very roots of the business.” 


Karen booked on for a top up 3-day programme in February 2019 to which she brought along her husband, Henryk.  Her exercise programme was progressed and it was a great touch point for her to be able to push herself further.  She has also booked on to an R&R retreat in Burgundy in September – “we have bespoked Karen’s programme as she no longer needs physiotherapy or soft tissue therapy.  It’s extraordinary to look at how far she’s come and to consider that a year after her first programme, she no longer requires any medical treatment or intervention” says Michelle.  “We are incredibly proud of her commitment and progress.”

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