A freaky story has been circulating the past few days about a 59-year-old breast cancer survivor who was doing Pilates when a cavity inside her chest opened up, causing her breast implant to slip through her ribs and into her lungs.
Just. Horrifying. (Though for the record the patient apparently did not suffer terrible pain and a fairly simple surgery got everything back in order.)
In any case, being a Pilates instructor, I naturally wanted to know which Pilates exercise led to this insanity. The answer: “the Valsalva.”
What? I’m certified to teach Pilates on three pieces of equipment through two different schools and I’ve never heard that word before. The Valsalva is not a Pilates exercise.
According to The BodyOddd:
During a Pilates routine, she was doing a Valsalva maneuver, a breathing technique in which a person takes a deep breath and holds it while bearing down. (In other words, you’re going through the motions of exhaling forcibly, but without letting any air escaping through the mouth or nose.
Um, no. She was doing Pilates wrong. And if an instructor told her to do that, I would love to know where he or she got her certification. I Googled “Valsalva” and it is apparently a breathing technique involving strenuous exhaling without expelling air through the nose or mouth. This is definitely NOT EVER encouraged in Pilates. We want you to inhale and exhale deeply through your nose and mouth, filling your lungs with lots of air in a way that facilitates the exercise you’re performing. Certain exercises, like the hundreds, call for “sips” of air in and short, quick exhales in counts of five, but we definitely want the breath to be traveling in and out of the body.
According to my Googling the “Valsalva maneuver” was named for a 17th century physician from Bologna who studied the human ear and recommended the technique for expelling pus. It’s that thing you do when you want to pop your ears on a flight. This site describes it as a technique often performed on the toilet.
According to the December 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (seriously don’t click on that if you’re squeamish), the woman had undergone heart valve surgery, which likely weakened a cavity inside her chest, allowing the breast implant to get sucked through. Yipes.
Plastic surgeon Jennifer Walden in Austin, Texas-based plastic surgeon wasn’t involved in the patient’s care but told CBS News this was “an extremely rare circumstance,” and she suspected that the surgery combined with “hardcore” Pilates’ stretching and breathing exercises may led to the boob swallowing.
All due respect, Dr. Walden doesn’t know anything about Pilates. The practice can be very challenging and body-changing, but it can also be wonderfully therapeutic and can be modified for every level of ability. Obviously I love Pilates. I’m a huge fan and an instructor. It has changed my body and made me feel strong and awesome. So yeah, I’m biased. But it would be a shame if a freak accident caused by something that has nothing to do with Pilates frightened away folks from a practice that could profoundly improve their health.
If you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area and want to check out a super-safe place to do Pilates, I highly recommend Core Pilates and Physical Therapy on 17th Street. The owner, Julie Schottland-Cox, is a physical therapist as well as a Pilates instructor — so while all instructors undergo rigorous training, Julie is even more extensively trained and knowledgeable about the human body. And I guarantee you no instructor there will ask you to do the Valsalva.