“Pilates has been such a miracle thing for me. After one session, my pain was almost gone. It’s insane. I’ve never had results like that from strength workouts or hiking.”
From London and New York fashion weeks to the Grammys, Jessyca Swanson is hairstylist to models, stars and the well-coiffed of Colorado.
But as Jessyca’s career has taken off, back and hip pain have threatened to shorten it.
While desk-workers learn they need to sit less and stand more, Jessyca struggles with the opposite. She stands for 10 hours a day, on average, and often more. She’s lucky if she can rest in a chair for a few minutes between each client.
And with each appointment, she turns and bends her six-foot frame to clip, curl or straighten strands.
For seven to eight years, Jessyca suffered from hip and lower back pain that had become a daily part of life.
“The hard part about being a hairdresser is we have an expiration date on what we can do,” she says. “After 23 years as a stylist, I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep it up. After 10-hour days I just wanted to lay on the couch and cry.”
After trying numerous tactics to ease her back and hip, she finally found the solution she’d been seeking. And within six weeks her pain had disappeared.
From Foam Rolling to Physical Therapy, Nothing Helps
From the start, Jessyca’s body alignment has been a bit off.
“I was born pigeon-toed and have crooked feet and knees,” she says. “I’m slightly knock-kneed.”
As a child, she briefly wore leg braces and high-top shoes, but not long enough to correct them fully.
At 17, Jessyca began working as a hairstylist. As the years progressed, her body began to rebel from the strain.
For help, she tried personal trainers, physical therapy, foam rolling and strength training to address the root cause. She regularly hiked 10 miles in the Colorado backcountry in hopes of building her muscles, but still, the pain persisted.
She tried hot and cold therapies akin to what athletes do, such as saunas and ice baths – to no avail.
Finally, to help numb the pain, she used ibuprofen and CBD patches and creams.
The Answer – Sat Right in Front of Her
Then a Pilates instructor ended up in her stylist chair.
“I was at a desperate point of being consistently in pain and I hadn’t been sleeping,” she says. “I said, ‘I need to come see you…like tomorrow!’”
Joseph Pilates developed the form of exercise in the last century. The exercises build strength and flexibility, and create lean muscle tone through movements that focus on correct alignment, control, breathing, flow and concentration.
For most of the exercises, you sit, stand or lie on a sliding contraption called a reformer, which provides resistance to help strengthen and align the body in subtle ways.
Jessyca had little to lose in trying it. She started private sessions with her hair client, instructor Emily Stone of Bolder Pilates.
While Pilates has become known for core strengthening, Stone says it builds full-body strength and alignment.
“It’s about using your whole body in a smart, connected way to accomplish whatever the movement is, so you then use your body in a smart, connected way in every part of your life,” Stone says.
Stone says that back pain ranks as one of the top complaints from her clients, often exacerbated by long days of sitting. But the standing and maneuvering of Jessyca’s job created other challenges.
“Jessyca is on her feet every day, having to hold herself in interesting positions, and I think weird compensating patterns come out of that,” Stone says.
Less Pain in a Single Pilates Session
Stone started by evaluating Jessyca’s posture and alignment, and then tailored exercises and stretches specifically to address the imbalances she found.
Though the movements are gentle, they quickly surfaced Jessyca’s problem areas.
“My legs were shaking like a baby giraffe!” she says. “I thought I was so much stronger than I was, but it shows that my body was compensating for that.”
Yet after a single session, Jessyca noticed her pain had eased up.
She continued with one to two sessions every week, gradually learning more about her body’s unique structure and needs. While in sessions, she most often used the reformer. At home, she continued with stretching.
Along with building certain muscles, Jessyca also picked up ergonomic tips for her workday – including how to stand and bend without strain.
“Now when I work, I keep changing my position,” she says. “Sometimes I dance around clients instead of spinning the chair so I’m using different movements, and not standing in one spot.”
Pain Dialed Down to Zero
Six weeks after starting Pilates, Jessyca’s pain level is at…zero.
“Pilates has been such a miracle thing for me,” she says. “After one session, my pain was almost gone. It’s insane. I’ve never had results like that from strength workouts or hiking.”
Jessyca also notes changes in normal day-to-day activities, such as walking and driving. When pressing on the gas, it comes from her core, not her foot. And without pain, she’s thankfully sleeping better.
Gone too is any pain while on the trail.
“I noticed a huge improvement when I was hiking a couple of weeks ago,” she says. “I was hiking out of my hams and glutes and not putting the strain into my legs and knees.”
Jessyca says she’s also been trying to follow an anti-inflammatory diet to help keep the pain away.
A Game-Changer for Her Career
Beyond the physical relief, Jessyca gained something just as critical – peace of mind that she’ll be able to keep doing what she loves.
“Being pain-free is going to extend my career,” she says. “I’m only 40 and would like to keep doing hair behind the chair for the next 20 years. I won’t be able to if I don’t take care of myself.”
She plans to continue with Pilates at least once a week to maintain what she’s achieved.
Jessyca stresses that perceptions about Pilates shouldn’t scare others off.
“I feel like anyone can do this,” she says. “When I’m in there, I see all body types and ages. It’s a low-impact, calming and gentle way to work out.”
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