Ten years ago, Olivia Snyder was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It was an important piece of a long journey navigating puzzling cardiac complications. Olivia had a heart catheterization but unfortunately, while recovering, she developed a staph infection and hematoma. The hematoma burst, which required emergency surgery and special wound treatment.
Following this series of health events, she spent more than three years in bed before receiving a pacemaker. “Being bedridden made me lose all of my core strength. Once my heart got better and I was in a good place, I wanted to start moving.”
In January 2020, while in an aerobics class, Olivia experienced a pelvic issue that resulted in movement problems with her lower spine and legs. “My doctor referred me to physical therapy, but it wasn’t focused enough. My chiropractor suggested I try somewhere else, and I ended up working with a Parkview physical therapist who focused on pelvic floor work. That solved a lot of the problem.”
Still, Olivia wanted to improve her activity level. “I was having issues even getting up out of a chair. My balance wasn’t great. Getting older, being in bed for so long, the ten-year journey to diagnose my heart issues and going through menopause was just so much at the same time,” she said. “In my mind, I’m a very active person, but my body doesn’t always cooperate. I was ready to get back on the trails and on my bike.”
When the COVID pandemic hit, Olivia didn’t feel comfortable returning to the gym, particularly with her heart issues. “In September 2021, I started seeing Amy [Muha, physical therapist].”
“Olivia has a number of medical problems and Pilates has been the only thing to offer pain relief and increase her strength,” Amy said. “We wanted to get her to be able to stand, walk and climb stairs and there’s been so much improvement in her function in these areas.”
Olivia appreciates the process that has brought her to where she is. “It took us awhile to figure out what I could handle, and which equipment was best for me,” she said. “I’d taken Pilates in the past, and always liked it. I find it’s very helpful because it targets the exact muscles you need to compensate for whatever weakness you have. I was the operator of my own body, but I had no idea what I wasn’t doing right to support myself. Amy showed me things like, how to stretch my hip flexors, to help with walking.”
Amy explained, “The key is to work on strengthening the body from the inside out. If a person doesn’t have abdominal muscles, we work those smaller muscle groups with smaller motions and teach the muscles to support the spine. The transverse abdominis is like an inner back brace and if we can get people to improve those muscles, we can improve posture, strength, movement and really, all aspects of life. The benefits start to come once you know how to contact these muscles.”
“When I started physical therapy, I didn’t realize how many people have the same struggles as I do,” Olivia said. “I’d been in bed for so long, it wasn’t that I wasn’t strong enough, I just didn’t have control or the sensitivity I needed. Learning to control the right muscles makes all the difference. Amy is helping me gain the control I need to move.”
Olivia also has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), which affects connective tissues, including the joints, which adds a layer of complexity to her efforts. “I have the hypermobile form, which means that my joints might choose not to stay in place. And I’ve had to learn to adjust my expectation. If you have wobbly knees or ankles, your muscles have to be strong, and Pilates has really helped me target those areas.”
According to Amy, “People with EDS and scoliosis do really well with Pilates because we are stabilizing the joints and working on smaller muscle groups to help support the joints and help balance musculature.”
After a year of working together once a week, Amy and Olivia have appointments down to a targeted science. “Amy's dialed it in so directly, so we're just working on three muscles and using a very specific piece of equipment. I’ve learned that, when a muscle isn’t being activated, the body is great at bypassing the issue to compensate. Amy is helping me strengthen the exact areas I need to have better balance and stamina.”
Olivia is slowly returning to the life she has seen in her mind for years. “I went up the stairs like lightening the other day, and I've never had that experience in my life. I no longer have pain when I walk. The mechanics of how I move are solid now. I can sit in a chair longer and my balance is so much better.”
“We have Pilates equipment that can support larger people. There are exercises you can do standing, lying down, side lying, so there are options for everyone,” Amy said. “I believe in Pilates as a strong physical therapy treatment tool. It lasts longer than taking a pill, which wears off and then you have to take another. With this method, we start at the base and build on that. Patients teach muscles to contract and get stronger and stronger over the years.”
Amy is a strong advocate for the practice. “Pilates is for everybody – every age, every body type, every scenario. It can improve posture, energy and form when you go from sitting to standing. You don’t have to be injured to do this physical therapy. It’s a great tool for prevention and preservation. I always want to be active, so the ability to maintain my mobility has given me my freedom. I don’t look like I exercise all the time, but I feel really strong when I do Pilates. It’s a joy you don’t get with other exercise.”
Parkview Therapy Services offers direct access to Pilates as part of physical therapy for appropriate patients. Simply call and request an appointment and consultation with Parkview Therapy Services at 260-266-7400, option 4.