The Buttafly is a new concept in the management of back pain and like many great inventions, came about quite by chance.
After a spine-damaging accident, physiotherapist TillyLou James took up yoga but found many seated postures uncomfortable no matter what props she tried. Drawing on her experience of anatomy and ergonomics she set about designing a purpose-built yoga block called the Buttafly.
As a support for seated postures, its shape complements the natural contours of the pelvis and avoids pressure on the coccyx and base of the spine. It can also be used on a chair for chair yoga and rehabilitation – especially helpful for those with mild neurological impairment.
But how did the Buttafly come to be used as a treatment for back pain?
“Following a fracture of my sacrum in a rollerblading accident I’ve been left with a knobbly bit of bony that means I cannot lie down flat on a hard surface,” says TillyLou.
“As soon as the Buttafly arrived I began to explore different ways of using it. I found that placing one low down under my pelvis avoided pressure on my sacrum. It was the first time in years that I could lie flat on the floor, and I was so comfortable, I even fell asleep! But the biggest surprise was that, afterwards, my spine and pelvis felt much more flexible.”
“I began to explore my findings with others, trying out the position on people both with and without back pain. Like me, many have had fairly transformational experiences – physically and often emotionally too.”
In the world of back pain, the most famous physiotherapist is Robin McKenzie, author of Treat Your Own Back. First published in 1980, it has sold over 4 million copies and has been translated into 18 different languages.
“His whole method came about by chance after a patient lay the wrong way up on a treatment couch!” says TillyLou, who trained in his method in the 1990s. “As a result, McKenzie began to evaluate the effects of simple movements and positions on his patients’ back pain. Over time a clear assessment and management process emerged.” While initially slated by fellow professionals, the McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy is now practiced by physiotherapists and other clinicians all around the world and is regarded as the first line of treatment for discogenic back pain low back pain. Research has even shown that it is as effective as an MRI scan in diagnosing a prolapsed disc.
A pilot study investigating the supine position with the Buttafly conducted by a musculo-skeletal specialist physiotherapist has also shown exciting results. In addition, the anecdotal evidence supporting the role of the Buttafly in back care is so powerful that a British University is planning to do a PhD research project, looking into what TillyLou calls the “Buttafly Effect”.
“If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got. The results from working with hundreds of people over the past few years show that the Buttafly gives lasting relief from back pain and begs us to re-consider the whole nature of the problem. Eighty per cent of adults complain of it at some point in their lives costing the NHS £500 million and, in 80 per cent of cases, there is no known cause. We have to ask ourselves, what are we missing?”
A staunch advocate of the Buttafly is office worker Rob Dewing. “It was amazing how quickly I could feel the difference,” he said. “With long hours sitting at my desk I often find complain of back ache towards the end of the day – and that’s how it was when I went to see TillyLou to try the Buttafly.”
“After a quick look at me in standing, she showed me how to lie on the floor with the Buttafly positioned under my pelvis. I laid there for five minutes but almost immediately could feel my back settling into a more comfortable position, all the tension easing away.”
“When I removed the Buttafly I could feel how much my shape had changed by my contact with the floor – it was even more obvious when I stood up. It’s simply amazing and now I use it every day.”
TillyLou says that many people have benefited from the Buttafly Effect including pregnant ladies and new mums, people with sacro-iliac joint pain, chronic low back pain, scoliosis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis and following surgery. But she is adamant that no claim can be made that everyone will benefit.
“I don’t think there can ever be one thing that works for all but only 2 people out of the 300 or so I’ve worked with have not shown a realignment – my observation was that they did not fully relax. Experience shows that as long as someone can get comfortable and let themselves go – they may need a small pillow under their feet and perhaps a small one under their head – they will feel the benefits afterwards. Those with chronic pain benefit from resting in position for about 15 minutes but many notice the effects after just five.”
“If someone says they feel no difference afterwards, in 90% of cases it’s because the Buttafly was not correctly placed. It goes much lower than most people think – even one of the top physios I know put it in the wrong place until I showed him the right way! The concept is new – especially to those who practice yoga or Pilates. They are used to putting a yoga block or brick UNDER the sacrum but not BELOW it.”
TillyLou is passionate about helping people help themselves and she is now developing a holistic back care programme centred on the Buttafly.
“I’m passionate about posture,” she says. “Not for posture’s sake but for the clues it gives us into our inner landscape. We can heal from the outside in and the inside out – it’s my privilege and pleasure to help people do both.”