Back pain doesn’t take prisoners, it goes right for the kill. While many people live with chronic lower back pain, that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy road or that it’s something that they have to suffer through. There are myriad ways to fight back again this debilitating problem and Pilates is offers a wonderfully simple solution that gets to the root of the problem.
Consider the following first
First off, it’s important to know the source of your back pain. Is it bone or muscle? While Pilates is beneficial for both types, there’s a risk of injury if your back issues are related directly to the spine. Specific exercises also help different areas as well. For example, some Pilates exercises target lower back pain rather than upper. You want to tailor your exercises to your needs, so find a doctor or specialist for guidance.
Keep in mind that the way that our bodies generate movement is that muscles pull against bones. These two systems are intimately connected. Problems with bone, like those involving the spinal column, can be alleviated by strengthening the surrounding muscles, taking the pressure off of the bones and relieving pain while increasing range of motion. For issues involving pulled muscles, Pilates actually corrects the underlying problem of muscle weakness or tightness.
The thrust of all of this is that you should check with your physician before beginning Pilates exercises for back pain.
How Pilates Relieves Lower Back Pain
The best time to relieve back pain is before it starts. However if you’re already suffering, then these same exercises can efficiently relieve your pain.
A fundamental tenet of Pilates is that strengthening the core muscles, the complete circle of muscles that wraps all around our midsection and lower back, is the best way to improve stability, strength, and overall physical health. Think of it as a life vest that supports your health. Study after study shows that lower back pain can be prevented with effective exercise methods like Pilates.
Pilates prevents and relieves lumbar pain is by strengthening those muscles that support the alignment of the natural curvature of the spine. Misalignment of the spine is the cause of a laundry list of physical ailments.
Six Pilates exercises to relieve lumbar pain
Before beginning any of these exercises, be sure that your muscles are warm. Five to ten minutes of light cardio is plenty. If you’re suffering from significant lower back pain, you’ll want to be sure to make this easy on your back. Low impact cardio like walking, riding a stationary bike or taking a spin on the elliptical are perfect.
You’ll notice that these exercises are broken down into groups of three. Do 10-12 repetitions of each exercise in the group to form the set. Do 1-3 sets of each group before moving on to the next group. Pause only slightly between exercises and between sets. Stop if you experience a dramatic increase in back pain, this is not the time to push your limits. Let your body guide you.
These exercises are all simple enough to only require a mat.
Group 1: Lower back Pilates exercises:
1. One leg Pilates teasers
- Lie on your back on the mat, knees bent to 45 degrees. Arms are palm up by your side. Drop your shoulders and relax, letting the back ribs fall toward the floor. Be sure your legs are parallel and your spine is neutral.
- Extend one leg up in the air, knees remaining together.
- Keeping your ribcage on the down, arc your arms up over your head and pull your chin to your chest, rolling your upper back off of the mat. Shoulders should stay down with shoulder blades pulled against the back.
- Keep rolling up and reach for your toes, exhaling as you move up. Do not go past the point of discomfort.
- Pause at the top of the movement, then slowly lower down, engaging the abdominal muscles and sequentially lowering the spine one vertebrae at a time onto the mat.
- Pause and inhale deeply at the bottom of the movement.
- Repeat 10-12 times, exchanging legs with each repetition.
2. Kneeling rear leg raise
- Begin in a plank position, knees on the mat and engaging the abdominals while extending through the top of the head. Lean forward to put your weight onto your hands and ensuring that your shoulders are directly over your wrists.
- Lifting the abdominals, extend the legs back so that the hips are rotated nearly parallel with the floor. Ears, shoulders and hips should be in line.
- Extending from the hip, lift one leg off of the mat and straighten it, pointing the toes slightly and exhaling as you move. Your abdominals, shoulders and back will all be engaged, but don’t tense them.
- Hold for only a moment, then lower the leg and inhale before repeating with the other leg.
3. Back bows
- Lie face down on the mat, arms extended straight over the head with palms down. Legs are flat and extended.
- Gently reach out with the arms and legs, lengthening from the core all the way out through the fingers and toes. Spine is constantly neutral.
- Slowly and gently with an exhale, lift the arms and legs off of the floor to the limit of your ability. Head raises up off of the mat and shoulders remain back. Think of a string on a bow and arrow.
- Pause for a moment at the top, then inhale as you lower one vertebrae at a time to the floor.
- Pause again on the mat, then repeat.
Group 2: Lower back Pilates exercises:
1. Side hip raise
- Lie on your side propped on your elbow and with your lower arm extended out in front of you, palm down. Bend your bottom leg behind you and extend your top leg out straight. Top arm is crossed over your body with your hand resting on the floor. Head is in neutral spine.
- Inhale, contract your core and then exhale as you lift your head, hips coming off the floor and arm arching over your head and extending out.
- Inhale as you release down without letting the hip come all the way to the floor during your repetitions.
- Do half of the repetitions on one side before switching to the other to complete the set.
2. Roll like a ball
- Begin in a seated position, knees bent and hands resting gently on the shins.
- Lean back slowly, rolling like a ball down your back and onto your shoulder blades as you inhale.
- Roll back up to a seated position as you exhale.
- Repeat, keeping the movement fluid and intuitive.
3. Bow crossovers
- This exercise is performed exactly as the Back Bow, except rather that simply going straight up the movement goes to the left and to the right.
- Start as in the Back Bow, but with the hands together and slanted to the right. Likewise, legs are slanted to the right.
- Lift from the core to the center with both arms and legs, then up and over to the left.
- Repeat to the right and alternate sides, with each lift counting as one rep.
More than muscles
When the core is strong, our bodies feel strong and are less prone to injury. The empowering aspect of taking control of your body and conquering something as ubiquitous as lower back pain can’t be ignored. Once the pain is gone, you’ll body will not only feel great but you’ll also feel good about yourself!