Pilates can help you with back pain

Many people discover the world of Pilates because of chronic back pain or back injuries. Medical professionals and physical therapists often recommend Pilates exercises as a post-rehabilitative program to continue their recovery and strengthening of their muscles. Increasingly, we see physiotherapists taking Pilates education courses so that they can use the exercises to support the rehabilitative work with their clients. What exactly about Pilates makes it such a popular go-to option for people with a history of back pain? 


While many forms of exercises focus on strengthening the body in general, Pilates focuses a lot more on first being mindful of the core muscles before we move, ensuring appropriate activation of the core muscles before engaging bigger and more superficial muscles to complete each exercise. Having good core strength means that the deep muscles in the trunk of the body are working together to support and give stability to the spine. This refers to muscles like the transversus abdominis, the pelvic floor group of muscles, the multifidi (small deep muscles that play an important role in stabilizing the joints within the spine) and the diaphragm – our main breathing muscle. Activating these muscles are essential for promoting back health, ensuring the right level of stability in the body is present before introducing mobility (larger movements). 


We can develop poor posture, imbalanced muscles and resulting inefficient movement habits when we allow our largely sedentary and office-based lifestyles to dominate our lives. We get used to sitting for long periods of time and endure long stretches of physical inactivity. Eventually, postural imbalances are created, putting stress on the skeleton, the spine in particular, and this predisposes the body to injury, especially when it is subjected to excessive demands or sudden movements. 

Doing Pilates help one to maintain awareness of the proper placement and alignment of each body part in relation to others during movement. Together with full attention and commitment to each exercise, Pilates can help encourage deeper awareness of one own’s body. One of the first things that Pilates instructors always emphasize on is proper placement of the spine and pelvis before executing any exercise. This emphasis facilitates the muscles around these areas to develop more uniformly. Today, we term this proper placement as the ‘neutral’ spine, which has been found to be key in building stronger and more pain-free backs for many. 


A spine that is balanced in flexibility and strength is able to function in the way it is meant to – curving forward, backwards, side to side and twisting, and allowing us to perform our everyday activities with ease. Since Pilates focuses a lot on core strength and flexibility in the joints, this combination brings a multitude of benefits to people who want to build strong backs. A strong core musculature forms a protective support for the spine, while the flexibility training helps to increase range of motion over time, allowing many people with back injuries to eventually overcome faulty movement patterns and mental holding patterns to lead a more pain-free lifestyle. 


Using the breath is an integral part of Joseph Pilates’ work. He often emphasized on the importance of breathing correctly. This increases blood circulation and stimulates the muscles into greater activity, at the same time bringing oxygen to enhance healing in injured and under-utilized areas of the body. Breathing right also invigorates the mind and aids relaxation, allowing people who subconsciously hold tension in different parts of the body to find release in these areas. 


Pilates can improve general health, sports functioning, flexibility, and proprioception in individuals with chronic low back pain. Do note the following before embarking on a Pilates program:

  1. Seek a medical professional for advice and make sure you get clearance from them before proceeding. 
  2. Take time to learn the fundamentals right from a qualified and dedicated instructor through one-on-one sessions so that you can understand the basic principles of the method before diving into the exercises. 
  3. We highly advise against starting with group classes if you have a history of back problems as the lack of correction from trained personnel may cause you to sustain further injuries from performing the exercises incorrectly.


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