3 years ago

Try Pilates For Your Back Pain - Strengthen Your Core For A Healthy Back

Created in a World War I prisoner of war camp and now seen in every gym studio in the western world, Pilates is a great exercise for people with back pain.

Pilates for back pain

Now you may have an idea in your head that Pilates is an 'easy' exercise that is 'just for women' and as such you may not fancy trying it.

However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Because if you think that Pilates is going too be too easy for you then you are in for a major shock.

As it's bloody hard work!

So be prepared to discover muscles in your core and abdomen that you didn't even realise you had (although you'll be very aware of them the morning after!).

But the good thing is that by working these core muscles with Pilates you will create a solid core strength that will not only reduce your pain.

It'll also provide greater support and stability for your lower back. 

Which will protect you as you move around, exercise, or get involved in physical activities such as digging, lifting, or gardening.

So if you are looking for an activity to build your core strength, increase your flexibility, and help you to get rid of persistent back pain, you could do a lot worse than trying Pilates.

What Is Pilates?

You may already have a preconceived idea of what pilates is all about.

But I bet you didn't know that it was created by a German prisoner of war during World War I as a way of keeping himself fit and strong in his cell where space and equipment were non-existent.

The prisoner in question (Joseph Pilates) led an extraordinary life, from circus performer to boxer to physical trainer among other things.

It's a fascinating story that I'd recommend you check out.

And after reading it I'm sure you'll never think of Pilates as solely a feminine activity ever again!

So what is Pilates exactly?

It's a form of exercise that works to strengthen your deeper core muscles​ while also improving the flexibility in your muscles and joints.

And it shares certain similarities with yoga but with far more emphasis on core strengthening.

​So while there are stretches and poses that you'll find in a yoga class, there are also exercises that focus on movements that have more in common with an aerobics class.

As the aim with Pilates is to improve your bodies functioning by strengthening the 'powerhouse' that is your core.

This is because the core is where all your movement starts from.

So having a stronger core will allow you to move with more strength, protection, and support.

And this is achieved through a series of controlled but flowing movements and stretches alongside breathing that is synchronised with your movement.

However, to make sure you get the most from Pilates you need to follow 6 essential elements which are:

  • Concentration - You need to remain focused on what you're doing.
  • Centering - You need to hold your awareness in the centre of your lower abdomen (your core) and move from there.
  • Control - You need to make sure you are maintaining good technique and posture as you move.
  • Precision - You need to make sure you are doing each exercise correctly.
  • Breath - You need to synchronise your inhalations and exhalations with your movement.
  • Flow - You need to make sure your movements are smooth and flowing.

Any good pilates instructor will make sure you are following all 6 of these.

And by doing this you'll be on your way to a stronger core, a more flexible body, better posture and spinal alignment, and less back pain.

The Benefits Of Pilates For Your Back

Pilates is such a good exercise that even elite athletes are incorporating it into their routines to give them the edge over the competition.

For an example of this check out the video above with the boxer Amir Khan who is a recent pilates convert.

And the good news for us is that Pilates has also been found to be a good activity for people with back pain in various scientific studies.

For example, one study in Brazil put 60 people with chronic lower back pain that were taking pain medication on to an injury rehabilitation program.

However, they split them into two groups, with one of these groups having a pilates program added to the usual rehabilitation treatment

And after 6-weeks the group that were also practicing Pilates had less pain, better movement, more energy, and were taking less pain medication than the other group.

So it had a great effect on ​many different aspects of their chronic pain experience.

But why is that?​

First and foremost, Pilates strengthens the deep-lying core muscles that support your spine.

And not only does this offer more​ support for your lower back, it also helps your body to stay more balanced.

​This lowers the risk of any muscle imbalances developing and reduces the load and strain on your lower back.

Secondly, it improves your overall flexibility especially in the hip and shoulder areas.

And this is great for reducing the load on both your upper and lower back.

It also trains your body to adopt and maintain a good posture as you move.

And by becoming aware of your posture as you move through the exercises in a pilates class, you can get into good habits that are carried through into how you move throughout the day.

Finally, by getting used to syncing your breathing in line with your movement, your body gets into the habit of releasing tension and staying relaxed as you move.

Which will keep your muscles loose and hopefully pain-free during your day to day activities too.

So overall Pilates is an awesome activity for reducing your back pain.

However, this is only true when it's done correctly, because if you do it with a bad technique it can be a nightmare!

Warning - You Need To Practice Pilates Correctly

Practicing Pilates can be great for your back, however doing it with a poor technique can actually do you more harm than good.

But why is that?​

The reason is that when Pilates exercises are done incorrectly they can put a massive strain on your lower back.

And this can cause minor problems such as pain and discomfort or even more serious problems such as slipped discs.

So it's VITAL that you learn how to do Pilates correctly and safely.

This is why it's key to find a class with a good instructor.

And if you want the safest way to enjoy Pilates as a beginner with back pain you could even sign-up to a physiotherapist-led Pilates class.

As these are Pilates classes run by qualified physiotherapists.

Where you'll be given a one-on-one assessment before beginning, which means going through your medical history so the physio can get a clear idea of what will help you.

And importantly what might be harmful for you.

So you will be in the safest possible hands here with people that understand your problems in great detail

And they will tailor the classes to your needs while making sure you are keeping to the correct technique.

You can find these classes in most large cities nowadays (they are sometimes called 'Pilates Plus' classes).

Just google 'physiotherapist-led Pilates classes near me' or 'Pilates plus' and you should have a few options to get you started.

How To Get Started With Pilates

For beginners

For people who are more experienced

First things first, it's always a good idea to consult with your doctor before beginning any new form of exercise to make sure that it's safe for you to do so.

And also you should stop if you feel your pain getting worse during or afterwards.

But once you have the all clear how can you get started with Pilates?

Now Pilates is very popular nowadays so most gyms and studios should offer a variety of classes for you to choose from.

But you need to make sure of a few things before choosing a Pilates class.

Firstly you need to find one with a good instructor that will make sure you are using the correct technique.

And also one that will take your existing injuries into account before asking you to do something.

So you also need to make sure you tell the Pilates instructor of your back issues before starting any Pilates class.

As then they will be able to offer you alternative exercises to do if they think the more challenging moves in the routine could aggravate your problem.​

Secondly, as with any new exercise you need to start slowly and build up gradually.

So try to find a beginners class and move on from there once you are getting the hang of it and want to try something more intense.​

​Also try to find smaller classes if you can (preferably under 12 people).

As when you are in a big class you can get lost in the crowd and it becomes difficult for the instructor to make sure everyone is keeping to the correct technique.

But with a smaller class you'll get much more personal feedback which will help you to stay healthy.

And to give you an idea of what to expect from Pilates, take a look at the videos above.

There is one suited to beginners and another for the more advanced and these videos are great as they allow you to practice Pilates in your own home.

However, as I mentioned in the previous section, performing the techniques correctly is absolutely vital if you are going to avoid damaging your back further when doing Pilates.

So I'd recommend you learn Pilates in classes with qualified teachers before attempting to practice by yourself at home.

But once you've got the hang of it there's nothing to stop you making the most of these videos and the countless others on YouTube.

Rounding Up

I hope that after reading through this article you can see the value of Pilates for people with back pain.

Because having a strong core can really help to provides support and stability for your spine as you move throughout the day.

And adopting regular Pilates sessions either in a class or at home can help you to:

  • Reduce back pain.
  • Strengthen your core.
  • Move better and more freely.
  • Increase your flexibility.
  • Have a greater range of motion.

Just need to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly and the benefits will come.

So get over any misconceptions that Pilates is an easy exercise that is just for the ladies.

Because trust me, you'll find it both challenging and rewarding.

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I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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