Pilates For Back Pain - Strengthen Your Core For A Stronger Back

Created in a World War I prisoner of war camp and now seen in every gym studio in the western world, pilates has come a long way. And if you suffer from back pain it's a great exercise for you. 

pilates for back pain

Now I'm guessing that pilates is probably something you've never considered trying. 

After all it does seem to provoke a similar reaction to yoga amongst men with most being reluctant to try it. 

I mean it's just one of those things that men don't do right? ​

And to be honest before I tried it for myself I also assumed it was just a nice and gentle activity for the ladies​. 

But let me tell you this.

I was wrong. 

Because if you think pilates is 'just for girls' and not a good workout 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!).

And the good thing is that by working these muscles with pilates you will create solid core strength​ that will not only reduce your pain.

It'll also provide greater support to your lower back. 

And if you more need convincing I found a great article ​that listed 20 reasons why men should get involved with pilates which is well worth a read.

Because it's so good for us that even top level sportsman are incorporating pilates into their routines to give them the edge over the competition.

For an example of this check out the video below with the boxer Amir Khan​ who is a recent pilates convert:

And if it's good enough for elite boxers then it's surely worth a try right?

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 amongst 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 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 there is far more emphasis on core strengthening with pilates.​

​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.

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 and support.

And this core strengthening 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 are 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.

Why is Pilates Good For Back Pain?

is pilates good for back pain

​Pilates has been found to be good for people with back pain in various scientific studies.

For example one such study took 60 people with chronic lower back pain that were taking pain medication and put them on an injury rehabilitation program.

However they split them into two groups with only one of these groups having a pilates program added to their 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?​

Well pilates can have a great impact on the health of your back for a number of reasons.

First and foremost it 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.

Thirdly it trains your body to adopt and maintain a good posture as you move.

And by becoming aware ​of how to keep the spine correctly aligned as you move 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 can release tension and stay relaxed as you move.

And again this is a skill that can develop into a habit that you carry through ​outside of class too.

So overall ​pilates can be an awesome activity for reducing your back pain.

However this is only true when it's done correctly.

Because if you do it incorrectly it can be a nightmare!​

It's Vital That You Practice Pilates Correctly

yoga helps back pain

​So while doing pilates can be great for your back, doing it wrong can you more harm than good.

But why is that?​

The reason is that when pilates exercises are done with a poor technique they can put a massive strain on your lower back.

Which can cause minor problems such as pain and discomfort and even more serious problems such as slipped discs​.

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

And the key to this is to find a class with a good instructor.​

However if you want to find the safest way to enjoy pilates as a beginner with lower back pain you can sign-up to a physiotherapist-led pilates class.

As the name suggests these are pilates classes run by qualified physiotherapists.

You will usually be given a one-on-one assessment before beginning which will go through your medical history so the physio can get a clear idea of what will help you.

And also 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 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

Pilates for back pain

​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.

And also to stop if you feel your pain getting worse.

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

Now pilates is very popular nowadays so there should be plenty of classes available to you.​

And if you want to check out a regular pilates class then 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 when choosing a pilates class.

Firstly you need to find one with a good instructor.

This is crucial.

As not only will a good instructor ​make sure you are using the correct technique.

They will also take your existing injuries into account before asking you to do something.

And on this note you also need to make sure you tell the pilates instructor of your health 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 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 video below which features a gentle beginners routine for the lower​ back:

And when you move on to the more advanced pilates classes you can expect to find more intense strengthening exercises like the ones in the video below:

Now these videos are good, and there are plenty of them on YouTube that you can use to practice with at home.

And they can be a great resource for sure.

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

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

And once you've got the hang of it there's nothing to stop you making the most of these videos.​

Rounding Up

​I hope that after reading through this article you can see the value of pilates.

Because having a strong core can really help your back as it provides support 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.
  • Give you better movement.
  • Increase your flexibility.
  • Give you a greater range of motion.

You just need to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly and the benefits will come.​

So get over any misconceptions that pilates is just a feminine activity or that it's easy.

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

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Daniel

A 30-something painter and decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. Looking to explore the physical, psychological and emotional effects of living with chronic low back pain.

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