Back pain is an elusive condition that is difficult to diagnose and treat through conventional medicine. Medication and surgery are one extreme end of the spectrum that some may choose for treatment of back pain. To avoid unwanted side effects that come along with these extremes, a natural remedy would be to include physical fitness into your lifestyle as a way to treat back pain.
The first thing that you need to do is figure out what is causing your back pain. Were you in an accident? is this an overuse injury from sports? or is it a postural condition? These are questions you can ask yourself and your doctor to figure out the answer. As a Pilates specialist, you can also learn to address these questions through our Pilates for Common Orthopaedic Conditions course.
Pilates in a natural physical fitness remedy for back pain. It may seem counter intuitive to use the body, the back, and the spine to alleviate back pain but just the opposite is true. The emphasis on core strength through Pilates is one of the primary factors that will improve the development of strength in your spine to alleviate back pain. Once the core is strong then the mobility and strength of the spine will follow suit.
The concept of the Powerhouse in Pilates is one of the foundational elements in the method. The Powerhouse is like the connective thread that weaves the entire body together through the center of the body. The Powerhouse consists your lower back, hips and abdominal muscles. Many issues related to back pain may be caused by weak or tight muscles in the surrounding area such as the hips or abdominals. If one area is out of balance, it will affect the others. The concept of the Powerhouse helps keep all areas in balance.
Mobility in the spine is also an important factor when considering back pain. Many of the Pilates exercises emphasise gentle stretching of the spine and back muscles. Another concept that is also prominently featured is spinal articulation. Exercises such as the Roll Up and Spine Stretch Forward feature this particular type of movement, which is essentially the effort of moving each vertebra one by one.
The exercises may be performed seated or from seated to reclined and back up again. This type of exercise can tell where a particular weakness may be (and how to strengthen that area to avoid or prevent pain). For example, if you have a client trying to roll back one vertebra at a time but they collapse through the lower back every time, chances are their lower back and lower abs are weak.
Many of these exercises accentuate flexion of the spine, which is forward bending. Flexion of the spine can be both an abdominal strengthening activity and a spine-stretching activity. One of the cues commonly given during Pilates classes is to “round your back like a C-curve”, which means flexion of the spine.
There are also specific spine strengthening exercises, typically performed prone, or lying on the belly. These exercises, such as the Swan and Breaststroke, strengthen the spine extensors, also known as the erector spinae, which are the two ropy muscles that run right along the spine. Their close proximity to the vertebrae helps keep the vertebrae healthy.
These exercises focus on the extension of the spine, which is back bending. Extension of the spine is performed a lot less in day-to-day life as opposed to flexion (for example, lifting something from the ground utilises flexion). However, lack of this range of motion can cause back pain due to the front of the body being too tight and the back body being too weak. These specific spine strengthening exercises iterate stretching the abdominals (front body) while reinforcing the muscles of the back and spine.
When the muscles of the back are strong and mobile, living a pain-free life is more possible. Pilates instructors can help address these issues with their clients in a safe and knowledgeable manner through our Pilates for Common Orthopaedic Conditions course. This course outlines detailed anatomy of the spine along with an overview of general conditions that Pilates can help treat through specific exercises. You can start on the journey today of eliminating back pain for your Pilates clients while also earning continuing education credit.