‘Pilates’ – what do you think of when you hear the word? Lean muscles? Stretching? A strong core? Great Posture? A mind-body connection? Mental well-being? Pilates is all of these things and more. For some people though it’s simply about alleviating pain.
Back pain is an elusive condition that is difficult to diagnose and treat through conventional medicine.
Medication and surgery are at one extreme end of the spectrum, however to avoid unwanted side effects that come along with these extremes, doctors and physios are prescribing physical activity, more specifically Pilates, as a way to treat back pain.
In fact a large proportion of my client base are those referred to me by physios for the purpose of back care. Through this collaborative approach we’ve managed to help many clients regain full fitness and remain pain-free.
The emphasis on core strength in Pilates is one of the primary factors that will improve the development of strength and mobility in your spine to alleviate back pain.
Pilates focuses on the ‘Powerhouse’ to keep the body in balance and improve core strength. Your Powerhouse can be described as the area from the bottom of the rib cage to a line across the hip joints in the front, and to the base of the buttocks in the back. Joseph Pilates placed great emphasis on the Powerhouse, considering it a physical center of the body from which all Pilates movements should proceed. This principle is called ‘Centering’.
The muscles of your Powerhouse include the muscles in the abdominals, lower back, pelvic floor and hips. These Powerhouse muscles work together to form a supportive corset for your torso. They work together to stabilize the body during movement.
Many issues relating to back pain are caused by weak or tight muscles in the surrounding areas such as the hips or abdominals. If one area is out of balance, it affects the others. The concept of the Powerhouse helps keep all areas in balance.
All Pilates moves start in the Powerhouse, therefore if you are new to Pilates, you should think in terms of the Powerhouse and focus on this right away during movements. It is the Powerhouse that gives us the stability, strength, and control to move into the intermediate and advanced Pilates exercises.
Mobility and articulation of the spine are also important factors when considering back pain. Many of the Pilates exercises emphasise gentle stretching of the spine and back muscles and exercises such as the Roll Up, Spine Stretch Forward, and Wall Roll Downs teach you spinal articulation, which is essentially the effort of moving each vertebra one by one.
As an instructor we use these exercises to better understand where a particular weakness may be and therefore how to strengthen that area to avoid or prevent pain.
Specific strengthening exercises
There are also exercises that specifically strengthen the muscles in your back. The erector spinae are two ropy muscles that run alongside your spine and are used during spinal extension (back bending). This type of movement isn’t performed as much during day-to-day life when compared with the forward bending movement (flexion) of the spine. Consequently the muscles of the front of the body often become too tight and those in the back of the body too weak resulting in back pain.
Exercises such as Swan and Swimming help to strengthen the spinal extensors and improve spinal mobility while also stretching those muscles in the front of the body.
How to get started
If Pilates has been recommended to you to help with your back pain, I can help. New classes are starting in Beach Haven Monday 930 am and Wednesday 715 pm and 815 pm. Contact me for more information. For a more focused approach one-on-one or small group sessions are also available either in the home or gym.