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How to Use Pilates Exercises to Relieve Back Pain

How to Use Pilates Exercises to Relieve Back Pain

Imagine going through a phase  of having (literally) to crawl out of bed in the morning and pull yourself upright on the nearest chair, and then struggling to get dressed because you can’t reach your feet. This happened to a friend of mine who was subsequently diagnosed with a slipped disk (L3/L4).

Man Bending in Pain From a Slipped Disk
A Photo of a Man Suffering From a Slipped Disk

Today he is  largely pain free, and what worked as part of his recovery was doing core  strength  exercises, and especially Pilates. Pilates exercises for lower back pain may be something that  you may want to consider if you are suffering  from back problems and need follow up treatment after rehab.  However, it’s understandable if you have questions as to what these exercises are and how they can help you.

So let’s have a look at Pilates exercises for back pain in more detail, and then you’ll learn how to get  relief.

Read on…

What Are Pilates and How Do They Prevent Back Pain?

Pilates is an exercise program that focuses on the core postural  muscles that help keep the body balanced and are essential to providing support for the spine. Im particular, “Pilates exercises tack awareness of neutral alignment of the spine and strengthening  the deep postural muscles that support this alignment, which are important  to help alleviate and prevent pain.” [1]

This is just another way of saying that Pilates movements focus on building the core—the muscles throughout the abdomen, those supporting the spine, and others involved with supporting the center of the body.

Pilates-Based Exercises as a Treatment Option for Lumber-Spine Problems

As stated, people with back pain and poor posture can benefit from Pilates exercise, but proper technique is key. You may have to modify exercises to allow for your abilities and needs in the recovery process. Before you begin Pilates-based exercises at home, It’s  a good idea to review your techniques with a certified Pilates instructor. As a general rule, back patients should avoid exercises that push the spine into extremes of flexion or extension, or combine flexion with side bending or twisting the spine. These motions place excessive stress on the intervertebral discs.

In other words, you don’t want to twist yourself into a human pretzel.

That said, lets look at a common back problem that can be alleviated by post rehab  Pilates exercises— sciatica.

SCIATICA

The sciatic nerve runs from the low back/pelvic area through the hip and buttocks region and down each leg. It controls various muscles in the legs and is also responsible for sensation in aspects of the thighs, legs and feet. According to the Mayo Clinic, sciatica refers to “pain that radiates along the path of this nerve–from your back into your buttock and leg. The discomfort can range from mild to incapacitating, and may be accompanied by tingling, numbness or muscle weakness” [2]

Here are Some of The Symptoms:

  • Pain From The Low Back to The Knee
  • Pain From The The Buttocks Region to The Outside of The Calf and into The Top of The Foot
  • Pain From The Inside of The Calf to The Sole of The Foot
  • Numbness Along The Nerve Pathway
  • Tingling or “pins and needles,” in The Feet
  • A Loss of Bladder or Bowel Control

Pilates for sciatica helps build up the deep muscles that can help provide support to the sciatic nerve.

Post Rehab  Pilate Exercises to Relieve Sciatica

Generally, individuals with sciatica find extension positions (standing, lying prone) most comfortable. Some individuals, however, find comfort in a flexed (knees-to-chest) posture. Your doctor, after testing and looking at your history,  will  recommend exercises to help your  posture, strengthen the muscles of the back and abdomen, and improve flexibility in the muscles of the hip and knee.

Here are Some of The Common Pilate Exercises to Prevent Back Pain

Opposite-Arm-and-Leg Lift (3 sets, 10 reps each side)

  • Lie on The Stomach With Arms extended Overhead. Exhale While Lifting The Right Arm and Left Leg.
Photo of a Woman Performing Opposite Arm-Legs Stretch
Woman Shows How to Perform Opposite Arm-Legs Stretch

Inhale while lowering the arm and leg.

Exhale and Switch to The Opposite Arm and Leg.

Four Points (3 sets, 10 reps each side)

  • Begin on hands and knees with the spine in a neutral position. Exhale while extending the right arm and left leg and lifting them off the mat until they are parallel to the floor.
This is a Photo of a Man in The Four Points Stretch Position
Man Shows How to Perform Four Points Stretch

Inhale and return to the starting position.

Exhale and switch to the opposite arm and leg.

Piriformsis Stretch (3 sets, 15-30 seconds each side)

  • Begin on hands and knees and bring the right foot in front of the left thigh until the lower right leg is perpendicular to the torso and resting on the mat.
This is a Photo of A woman Performing Piriformis Stretch
Woman Shows How to Perform Piriformis Stretch

Extend the left leg straight back on the mat.

Sit  tall, using the arms for balance. Hold, then switch sides. (3

sets, 15-30 seconds each side)

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Conclusion

It’s not surprising that back pain patients across the globe are always on the lookout for ways to both prevent and treat recurring pain. As more people look into the best  exercise to keep their backs healthy, they are faced with the question as to which  exercises are most effective. Recently there has been a trend towards yoga for back pain. However, some people are now considering another option  – Pilates. As a general rule, if one needs to relax his or her muscles then Yoga may be the way to go. If the problem is a weak core that can not support the back, then one would be better served  exploring Pilates exercises  to relieve  back pain. As this post has shown, Pilates’ premise involves building strength from the inside out, with strong abdominal and back muscles leading to overall physical strength. That’s why it can be so effective for a condition like sciatica.

I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.

References

1

https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/yoga-pilates-tai-chi/pilates-exercise-and-back-pain

2

(Mayo Clinic 2005b)

3

Catherine Fiscella, “Help for low-back pain: these Pilates-based exercises can be a safe and effective alternative for clients with lumbar-spine disorders” Idea Fitness Journal. 2.8 (Sept. 2005): p34+.

10 thoughts on “How to Use Pilates Exercises to Relieve Back Pain

  1. This was a very good article on back pain. I was searching for excercises for my back pain, got them here.

    1. Hi Anita,
      I’m glad this post was able to help you find the right Pilates exercise to relieve your back pain. Thanks for checking in.

  2. My teenage daughter had a backache and we were scouting for recommendations when I read this article. The exercises you mentioned have helped her a lot. Thanks.

    1. Hi Oliva,

      It’s always nice to hear from a reader when my information has helped them directly or has made it possible to help members of their family. Thanks for checking in.

  3. Back again. I love your site because it’s so full of valuable information. Anyway, I was wondering if Pilates would be more effective than yoga at relieving back pain because they are much better at strengthening your core. I heard that a weak core is one major reason for back pain.

    1. Carrie,
      You’re correct. A weak core plays a major part in back pain. This is why sitting too long is bad for you, and why there’s so much talk and advertising about posture correction. Pilates will indeed strenghen the core much more effectively than yoga which is more focused on relaxing the body and mind. But as we stated in an earlier conversation, if one is looking for a solution to ensure more balance control of the body than Yoga might be a better solution. The ideal solution depends on what problem you are trying to solve. Is it balance and fear of falling or pain relief? Thanks for checking in.

  4. Hello there,
    Pilates is one of my favorite kind of exercise. I did a different kind of pilates and I loved them all. Yoga also is nice but I prefer Pilates.
    You are so right here, you see a big change in how you feel and it release your muscles. Your pain can’t stop right away but it helps a lot from the first sessions. In a short time, somebody with a back pain will feel much better.
    Thanks for sharing a very informative article.
    Do you practice yourself, pilates?
    Have a good day.
    Crsitina

    1. Hi Christina,
      More and more people are finding Pilates to be more effective in managing back pain than Yoga. I think that’s because Pilates more effectively target abdominal muscles which support the back. Yoga is perhaps better at relaxing the muscles–better at soothing aching muscles. As for me, I like to do planks. As they focus on strengthening the core, I consider them a form of Pilates.

  5. Hello Thabo,
    I believe throughout all times back pain has been common. In the past, people mostly had to work hard with their body and overworked it. Today most people sit too much while working and does not get enough movement during the work days, which also causes back pain. This seems like a paradox, but it is a fact. My husband can confirm that doing exercises regularly helps against back pain.

    For a long time now I have been thinking of to trying out pilates. Your article motivates me to finally do that. I think it would be a good method to prevent getting back pain and by looking at the video, it seems to be a relaxing kind of exercise.

    Thank you for sharing your profound knowledge about how to prevent and get rid of back pain.

    Pernilla

    1. Hi Pernilla,
      Pilates are becoming a very popular way to strengthen the core and in the process lessen the chances of back pain. If you try them, let me know how it turned out for you. Thanks for checking in. Thabo

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