Pilates is widely considered to be the most effective form of exercise for back pain, but why?
As an osteopath I see many patients suffering with back pain. As well as treating my patients with manual therapy, I also prescribe Pilates based exercises to support my treatment and facilitate recovery. In my experience Pilates is effective because it addresses structural problems in the body which may be the cause of back pain. The following issues all affect back health:
o Insufficient core support
o Pelvic instability
o Muscular imbalances
o Poor posture
o Poor body awareness
What is Pilates?
Pilates was founded by Joseph Pilates, to develop the body through increasing core strength, flexibility, and improving postural awareness. Pilates can be performed on a mat, with or without small equipment, such as blocks and balls. Pilates can also be practiced using a reformer machine (shown below). You can enrol in group classes or a one to one session. The philosophy of Pilates emphasizes quality of movement over quantity, therefore, doing each exercise with precision gains significant results.
How does Pilates strengthen the body?
Pilates Builds Core Strength
Core strength requires the following muscles to be strong, flexible, and work in sync to support the spine. The ‘core muscles’ include:
- The transversospinalis muscles – muscles running along the spine
- The deep abdominal muscles – create a corset supporting the spine
- The pelvic floor – support the pelvic organs
- The diaphragm – the main muscle of respiration.
Pilates Improves Posture
We usually think of alignment as posture however, good posture is a process which depends on the body’s ability to react and align itself in response to the movements required from it. If the body is unable to react and respond to the movement, uneven stresses to the spine, is the result. Pilates exercises should be performed with focus on posture and movement, this will create symmetrical muscle development.
Pilates Increases Flexibility
A healthy back should be able to move in all directions and allow a graduated movement of all the small joints of the spine. As you practice pilates, the transversospinalis muscles will begin to work in conjunction with the deep abdominal muscles and form a protective corset offering support to the spine and increasing the available range of movement of the spine.
Pilates Increases Postural Awareness
Back pain is a message telling us that something is not right, and may be due to a cumulative effect of poor posture and bad habits. When doing Pilates you become aware of your posture, your strength and how you move. This increased awareness of the body is important for back pain sufferers because as awareness increases we can let go of detrimental postures that cause back pain and begin to adopt a healthier posture.
Please Note Pilates may not be appropriate for all sufferers of back pain. Please gain medical advice before you start a Pilates program and choose a teacher who is familiar with your condition. We will soon be offering Pilates classes at our new clinic; please contact us for more information.