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How Pilates can Help Relieve Back Pain

Updated on July 13, 2011

Back pain is a common problem that affects as many as 8 out of 10 people.  It can range in severity from mild to severely debilitating, preventing individuals from carrying out their regular daily tasks and leading normal lives.  Back pain comes in many different forms - from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain - and is classified as acute or chronic.  Acute back pain can occur at any time but usually only lasts from a few days to a few weeks.  Chronic back pain is longer lasting and can plague an individual over a life time.  Generally, any back pain lasting longer than three months is considered chronic back pain.

Although back pain is a common problem, it is important to consult a health care provider if the pain is severe or if it fails to improve after three days.  Back pain caused by an injury also warrant a visit to the doctor's to eliminate the possibility of serious problems that require medical attention.

In general, back pain usually resolves itself and goes away on its own.  In the interim, some bed rest (no more than a day or two) and taking pain relief can help to make the symptoms more manageable.  There are other things you can do to reduce back pain and Pilates is one of them.

How Does Pilates Help to Reduce Back Pain?

The Pilates Method was primarily used to rehabilitate the sick and injured.  By focussing on building core strength, Pilates works to strengthen the muscles that support the spine - weak back and abdominal muscles is one of the primary causes of back pain.  Pilates also helps to improve posture - another cause of back pain.  Additionally, because Pilates is intended to be performed with slow, controlled movements, there is little likelihood of further injuring the back during exercise, making it an excellent exercise for rehabilitation.

Before engaging in a Pilates program for dealing with back pain, it is important to consult your health care provider to ensure that such a program is suitable for you.  It is also important to be aware of your limits when practicing Pilates.  Make sure you take a Pilates class from a certified instructor who knows what you should and should not be doing when suffering from back pain.  Generally, you should avoid exercises that push the spine into extreme flexion or extension as these can worsen your problem.  If you are tired, stop exercising and take a break - practicing Pilates with bad form can be harmful to your back.  Above all, if it hurts, stop.

How Can You Reduce Back Pain through Pilates?

There are several exercises in Pilates that are great for relieving back pain.  They are outlined below.

1. The Hundred

Lie on your back with your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor.  If you can maintain correct abdominal flattening with your back permitting, raise your legs so your knees are positioned directly over your hips and your knees are bent at a right angle.  If not, rest your heels on a chair for support.

Lift your head and shoulder and stretch your arms down by your hips. Raise and lower your arms about two inches and inhale for five counts, then exhale for five counts.

2. Spine Stretch Forward

Sit with your legs extended out in front of you and slightly more than hip width apart.  Keep your feet flexed.  With your arms extended in front of you, inhale and lean forwards rounding your back and pulling in your abdomen.  Then exhale and slowly sit back up releasing one vertebra at a time.

3. The Roll Up

Lie on your back with your legs extended and your arms stretched above your head.  Make sure your shoulders remain on the floor.  You can also do this exercise with your feet on the floor and your knees bent.

Inhale and lift your arms up towards the ceiling, then exhale and roll your body forward as if you are doing a full body sit-up.  Ideally, you should roll into a sitting position but if you cannot, then bring your body as far off the mat as you can before rolling back to your starting position. 

4. The Saw

Sit with your legs extended out in front of you and slightly more than hip width apart.  Extend your arms out to the side.  Inhale and sit up tall, reaching towards the ceiling with the top of your head.  Exhale and turn your body to the left while keeping your arms in line with your shoulders.  Bend your right shoulder towards your left foot with your open palm reaching towards your little toe.  Inhale and return to your starting position.  Repeat on the other side.

5. Spine Twist

Sit with your legs extended out in front of you and slightly more than hip width apart.  Extend your arms out to the side.  Inhale, tighten your abdominals and sit up as tall, reaching towards the ceiling with the top of your head.  Exhale and turn to the right as far as is comfortable.  Inhale and return to your starting position.  Repeat on the other side.

6. Ballerina Arms

Sit cross-legged with your spine tall and straight.  Bend your elbows at 90 degrees and pull your arms back so that your shoulder blades are touching.  With your elbows still bent, bring your arms down then raise them over your head like a ballerina.  Return your arms to your starting position.

These are just some Pilates exercises that you can do to help relieve back pain.  For more detailed exercises, it is advisable to see a professional Pilates instructor.  Continuing to build your core muscles not only helps to relieve your back pain but it helps to prevent future pain from recurring. 


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