Pilates for back pain


Nowdays, health professionals are realising the benefits of Pilates for prevention and rehabilitation of back pain and injuries. To break the endless cycle of back pain, it is necessary to train the deep abdominal and spinal muscles. The brain needs to relearn how activate the correct muscles at the correct time, and in the correct order. Thus Pilates isn't just a body conditioning exercise, it is training for the brain too.

The Pilates principles include activation of muscles, awareness of those muscles and how it feels to activate the correct one instead of employing all the surrounding ones to do the job for it, thus stopping compensation, just one of the reasons for back pain; awareness of how it feels to isolate individual muscles and seeing how this leads to reduction in pain and improvement in posture; and finally making this habit, an unconscious action as natural as breathing.

Will Pilates help me?

Everyone will benefit from Pilates, from the young to the elderly, from the pregnant to the new mother, from those who work with their bodies to those who are computer bound, and from the couch bound to the athletic. You don't have to be a dancer or professional sports person to benefit from Pilates. Pilates is especially beneficial to those with back pain, past injuries, poor postures, stress related illness, and before and after pregnancy. I have used Pilates to help people with back pain from car and motorcycle accidents, people with typical kyphotic posture from too much time in front of a laptop, people with scoliotic spines thus helping relieve their discomfort and giving them tools to keep it at a maintainable level.

Not everyone will relate to the Pilates approach as it requires slowing the thoughts, concentrating on the body and the breathing, and very much going within to be utterly aware of every little movement the body is making. Pilates requires patience and precision and thus you need to find your inner perfectionist. Sounds a bit esoteric, but believe me it isn't! Once you have good body awareness, you will be aware of your body's position in time and space and will catch yourself hunching over your laptop, just like I am aware as I type this to put my skull back on top of my spine, soften my collar bones and gently draw my shoulder blades down my back! Hard work if you never do it, and chances are you will force the movement and over do it, thus leading to mid back stiffness and a tired neck, among other little rather unsafe movements to your cervical vertebra... but that is just a lesson in itself!

A good example is watching TV at night, slumped on the couch, rounded lumbar spine, maybe one leg always crossed over the other. Do you stand up and feel stiffness in your lower back, maybe have to stand for a minute and arch your back a bit to counter stretch before you are able to move on? Maybe have a bit of stiffness in one hip? If you imagine that the body is a rather spectacular piece of machinery, which it is to be fair, yet not a failsafe piece of machinery, and if the bits holding the legs to the hips are stretched and weak on the one side, and shorten, yet not necessarily strong, on the other side, imagine how well that piece of machinery is going to perform when it is expected to start walking, or even worse, run? Imagine the "wheel imbalance"? Imagine what it does to all the working parts above it, i.e. the spine! So a muscle imbalance in the hips could ultimately lead to a neck problem. Going for a run with left and right hip abductors imbalanced, and stronger lateral quads than medial quads, thus leading to pronation of the foot... well that is a common occurrence and that alone could send you home with a sore lower back and possibly even a headache!

Quite a few of my clients are runners, and looking at the above example, I like to check their balance on 1 foot, I will check the comparative strength of the left and right glutes, stretch out those ITB's, check out their inner thighs and inner quad muscles, and continue to work on the body, looking for imbalances in strength and length of muscles, thus you can see that Pilates is an all over body workout, an MOT if you will. I wont just strength my clients abdominals, even though that will be a bit part of what I do. One of the biggest lessons I will give my clients is one of "disassociation" . Moving a limb within a socket without disturbing the rest of the body. Think of the femur moving within the hip socket like a joystick moving within its base, a pendulum moving within the clock... Once you master this, your body awareness will grow, you will be "mindful" in all your movements... walking, swimming, running, even reaching for a book off the top shelf. Pilates will not only help your sporting activies, it will change the way you move, and help your daily activities too. Putting on your socks in the morning, walking up and down stairs. The mind will get involved in all these activities, until it just becomes second nature, and this is when you have really reaped the benefit of Pilates. When you don't need to consciously need to think to draw your shoulders down your back while slaving over your computer! Or think to sit up straight during Gray's Anatomy. You just do it because it feels right. Then Pilates has worked for you.