Pilates and Spine health

"If you would seek health, look first to the spine" - Socrates

There are many different reasons for chronic back pain… Have you experienced a sudden injury, or has your back pain slowly crept in due to repetitive strain, poor posture, or muscle imbalance. The type of back pain problem matters for exercise selection. (bulging disc, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, SI joint instability, scoliosis, sciatic pain, just to name a few…)

Do you sit at a desk and stare straight ahead? Unfortunately, most people do, and they find it very difficult to sit up with proper posture for eight hours at a time. It becomes a vicious cycle: First you sit for long periods of time in a way that doesn’t properly support the spine (generally, in a slightly hunched-over position). Then you lose strength in your postural muscles by not using them day after day, and then you can’t sit up properly even if you wanted to because you’ve lost strength! What to do? Well, guess what? Pilates!

Most of the Pilates exercises strengthen the muscles necessary to properly support the spine and bring an awareness about what proper posture actually is. It’s not enough just to do Pilatesexercises; if you want to improve your posture and heal your back pain, you must incorporate Pilates into your daily life. You must translate the Neutral Spine, the feeling of length, and the Abdominal Scoop into your desk job. If you can incorporate the deeper Pilates concepts into your daily life, you’ll notice changes immediately — in your back pain, in your posture, and in your sense of well-being.

How Does Pilates Alleviate Back Pain?

By using techniques apparatus that target balanced strength, fluid functional movement and flexibility, Pilates builds the appropriate musculature around important joints such as the hip and shoulder. By enabling these joints appropriately, strain on the vertebral column of the spine is alleviated leading to the management of back pain and greater spinal health. Conversely, static exercises, or exercises with inappropriate loads can overstress and make back pain even worse. Pilates avoids aggravating positions and movements with emphasises on good movement habits which are specifically designed to relieve and manage back pain.

Clients that are at risk of back problems, or who already suffer from spinal pain and degenerating spinal discs can benefit enormously from a Pilates workout program with regards to an increased quality of life. Good physical habits are at the forefront of good back health, which is why Pilates teaches patients full awareness of movements which stress the spine, and counter-habits to preserve the natural alignment and strength of the body to thrive in everyday activities.

The exercises in the Pilates system should be challenging (both mentally and physically) but not so difficult that they cause anyone to struggle. If an exercise causes pain - it is best to stop and tell the instructor. The exercise may be too difficult, or the person may need additional help to do it correctly.

BEING YOUR OWN GUIDE

When trying a new exercise, see if the movement makes your back pain worse or better. Use this information to heal yourself. For instance, if you find that flexion (rounding the spine forward), like in Spine Stretch Forward, makes your back feel great, then you can proceed with all the flexion exercises with a fair bit of confidence. In that case, exercises that do the opposite movement, extension (arching the back), as in the Swan, may make your back hurt. If this is so, avoid all exercises that extend the back. The act of twisting may be the source of the problem, or it could be twisting in just one direction. Take note of what hurts and apply this information to your workout.