I’ve got back pain and everyone says I should do Pilates!
Ever mentioned to someone that you have back pain and been told, “Oh you should do Pilates”?. In the past decade Pilates has become an increasingly popular form of exercise for the general population and is often recommended for those of us with any sort of back pain. However, it’s a bit intimidating being thrust into a class where you’re suddenly expected to ‘adopt neutral spine’ or ‘articulate the vertebrae’ or my personal favourite ‘draw in the abdominals as if your pants were on fire’. The jargon can be really confusing for first-timers and that’s where Clinical Pilates comes in.
Clinical Pilates happens on a one-to-one basis where a trained pilates therapist takes you through all the basics of Pilates and assists in developing a personal and relevant programme for you. With their vast experience in biomechanical analysis and anatomical knowledge, they are able to identify your specific movement restrictions and come up with exercises/treatments to combat them. But let’s backtrack a bit and talk a bit about what Pilates is and how it can help you.
Pilates is all about strengthening movement by not only targeting the deep abdominal muscles (your “core”), but also your bigger pelvic, hip and back muscles. These are the structures that are often compromised in low back injury and Pilates assists in strengthening these muscles up to a point that they can stabilise the spine efficiently. A more stable spine means less load on the back and a lower chance of injury.
Pilates is also about body awareness and teaching you how to move so that the above-mentioned muscles are used in the right way. This also links in with posture. Alignment is really important in Pilates (and in daily life too!). Good alignment allows the muscles to work properly, but in a society where we spend our lives hunched over computers and desks – proper alignment often goes out of the window. This in turn compromises the ability of our muscles to stabilise our spine, which can then lead to injury.
So what have we got so far? 1. Strengthening 2. Spinal stabilisation 3. Body awareness 4. Alignment. What else? Pilates also assists with increasing flexibility. That’s another side effect of our sedentary desk-bound culture – everything just gets wound up. Pilates helps to get things moving with dynamic stretches whilst maintaining good alignment. Often those who’ve had back pain are scared to move, but our bodies are made to bend and stretch and reach. Pilates can provide you with the tools you need to move safely and without fear of ‘putting your back out’ yet again.
But these benefits aren’t just for those who’ve already sustained injuries. Why not take the offensive approach? Pilates is great for enhancing performance and preventing injury by facilitating good movement patterns, correcting muscle imbalances, improving postural alignment, increasing mobility and just making you move more efficiently.
So if you’re wanting to try this whole Pilates thing, why not book in for a few a one-to-one Clinical Pilates sessions before braving the masses at your local club or gym? The benefits are definitely worth it.
In the meantime, here are a few exercises focusing on spinal mobility and stabilisation that you can try out at home:
- Roll down
Starting position: Stand with your feet hip distance apart, arms at the sides of the body.
Inhale: tuck the chin in to the chest
Exhale: round the shoulders and spine, as if peeling your back off an imaginary wall, and roll down until the fingertips touch the floor. Keep the knees relaxed.
Inhale: at the bottom of the movement as you relax the head and the arms
Exhale: roll back up one spinal segment at a time. The head is the last structure to come up
Repeat this 3-4 times.
- Cat and Camel stretch
Starting position: Adopt an all fours position with the hands underneath the shoulders, and knees underneath the hips. Your neck should be in neutral with eyes looking into the mat.
Inhale: as you arch the back, open the shoulders and look forwards
Exhale: as you round the spine and tuck the chin in
Repeat this 6-8 times
- Alternate leg lifts
Starting position: Lie on your back with both knees bent and arms by the sides of the body.
Inhale: as you lift one foot off the floor into a half-tabletop position i.e. hip, knee and ankle at 90 degrees.
Exhale: as you lower the foot back down to the floor
Repeat this on the other side. You can do this 6-8 times on each leg
To make this exercise more challenging you can lift your head, chest and arms slightly off the floor and keep them there as you carry out the leg movements.
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