Pilates for Back Pain

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The incidence of low back pain is rising due to our sedentary lifestyles. 2020 has been a year of much lifestyle change with more people based from home and an increased risk of sedentary behaviours.

A common recommendation for ongoing back pain is to start pilates. But why and how can pilates help if you suffer from low back pain?

Pilates takes its name from the creator Joseph Pilates but originally it was called Contrology. (don’t worry pilates has come a long way from what you might find on youtube of the original pilates moves!)

The basis of pilates is about teaching the whole body to move with control and to move well. Often in chronic low back pain we see the body develop movement patterns which might have initially been protective, but if continued may have the effect of increased wear & tear through the spine, or continuing to reinforce an imbalance of the muscles.

Moving the whole body well, means that there will be a balance between the trunk stabilising postural muscles, and the global powerful muscles.

Once upon a time pilates was all about 2 words, ‘The Core’ referring to the abdominals and most people with low back pain will likely have been told they need to strengthen their ‘core’.

Many pilates instructors will now agree that having a ‘strong core’ is less about a six-pack and more about functional and dynamic full body strength and endurance.

The muscles which support and move the trunk include the abdominals, diaphragm, gluteals, pelvic and back muscles. A good pilates class will give you a whole body workout. Strengthening is either by using your own body weight or on our reformer machines which are spring loaded to create resistance.

Most pilates exercises strengthen more than one muscle at a time and move more than one part of the body at a time. This again means that the body has to move with good control and balance to do the exercise, and it means that the exercises are functional and replicate many movements that we perform every single day including spinal flexion and rotation.

Pilates can also help with improving flexibility and mobility. You don’t need to be able to touch your toes to help your lower back pain, but especially if a lot of time is spent sitting, there are areas of the spine and muscles around the pelvis and hips which can get particularly tight. Improving mobility as well as strength can help with maintaining better posture.

Research shows that one of the best approaches to managing low back pain is an active one including exercise. Pilates is a great option for exercise for someone with low back pain because it is low impact and it can be individualised depending on what your back needs.

At Unity Studios, you can come and have an assessment with one of our physios, to see what exactly you need to work on in the pilates studio. Many people then go on to have 1:1 pilates sessions with one of our instructors or physios, then ‘graduate’ into our classes. Another option is to see a physio for an initial assessment, then attend our Clinical Pilates classes. These are small group classes (3-4 people max), where you are guided by a physio through your individualised programme for your rehab. Contact us if you have any questions.

~ Laura Silk, Physiotherapist and Pilates Instructor

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