Coping with back pain is a condition that affects millions of people around the world. Many people go to their physician for answers and yet the remedy still remains a mystery.
Many of the exercises in the Pilates system will both strengthen and soothe back pain. However, some need to be modified or avoided in the instance of more serious injury or pain so as not to cause more discomfort or injury. There are also several specific exercises to focus on that will help back, too.
When looking at exercises that will ease symptoms of back pain, it is important to look for ones that will not cause additional strain on the lower. So, exercises that will stretch and strengthen not only the lower back but also the surrounding musculature must be considered.
This is a spine-strengthening posture that is a prep for the advanced Swan Dive. Lie on the front surface of your body with your hands stacked on top of one another and your forehead resting on your hands. Press your hip bones and pubic bone into the mat and lift the navel into the spine for lower back protection. Engage the legs by pressing the tops of the feet into the mat. On an inhalation, begin to lift the upper body off the mat. Keep the hands glued to the forehead so the elbows stay wide with the shoulders into the back. This lift should come from the mid-back, or thoracic area, and will work to strengthen the spine extensors. Lower back down to the mat slowly with control on an exhalation.
This is another spine strengthening posture that also includes gluteal activation. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor in line with your sitting bones. Place your arms by your sides and as you inhale, draw your navel inward as you imprint your lower spine into the ground and tuck the tailbone. Then, begin to peel the spine off the mat one vertebrae at a time so that the hips begin to lift off the mat. Hold for a moment at the top, then roll down vertebra by vertebra until the hips return to the mat as you exhale.
Every routine to strengthen the back should also include some work with the hips. Pilates emphasizes the Power House as the source of the body’s central strength, which is comprised of the hips, lower back, and abdominal muscles. With this exercise, everything is put together as a unit of engagement- the core and back stabilize while the hips work.
To perform the Side Kicks, lie on your side with your legs angled 45 degrees in front of you. Prop yourself up on your bottom arm and stack your shoulders and hips so there is no rocking forward or back. Then, kick your top leg forward and back while maintaining parallel alignment of the hips.
Finally, we have the Modified Scissors, which is a combination of a hamstring stretch and abdominal strengthener. It is vital to stretch the hamstrings when there are symptoms of lower back pain because tight hamstrings contribute to those symptoms.
This exercise is performed lying on the back. Bend the knees into the chest and then extend the legs upward while keeping a slight bend in the knees. Hollow the belly muscles downward, and begin to lower the left leg to a 45-degree angle with control as the right leg moves slightly closer to your chest. Then begin to scissor the legs in a precise, rhythmic fashion. Continue this rhythmic pace in a smooth and controlled manner as an extension from your center. Finish with a hamstring stretch afterward.
As a Pilates teacher, you can learn to cue these exercises for back pain and other conditions that require specific attention in order to reach a larger population.