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How can Pilates help back pain?

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

Everything you need to know about Pilates and back pain

Pilates plank, pilates mat.

Pilates and yoga have been talked about for years as being the magic cure to help back pain. I love Pilates and as an instructor myself would I be an advocate for Pilates helping solve back pain? Well ...yes absolutely but is Pilates actually magic? Pilates is essentially just a form of movement but it is done in a way that is graded, meaning that not everyone has the same starting point and it's through finding that and then starting to build strength that we really start to both see and feel a difference.


Understanding back pain

Non-specific lower back pain is estimated to affect 60% to 70% of people in their lifetime, often starting in early adulthood but reoccurring over time. In 2016 the NHS published a study stating that 'Back pain is the largest singe cause of disability in the UK, with lower back pain lane accounting for 11% of the total disability of the UK population." This is a huge proportion of people that at some stage of their life will most probably suffer from back pain.

Have you ever suffered with back pain?

Although pain and injury often occur together it is possible to have one without the other. If we start to think of the pain system as a warning signal notifying us of impending harm, we can then start to understand why it may be triggered by movements we often avoid or psychosocial factors such as sleep, emotions and physical activity to name but a few.

Acute pain is usually pain that lasts less than 3 months. The pain is present whilst the injury recovers to stop us causing further damage. After this point it is classified as non specific pain as more often than not the injury site may have recovered but the pain remains. For example if you fell over 12 years ago and it triggered back pain but you still experience the discomfort when you do an exercise such as the roll back, this may be more to do with the avoidance of that type of movement, so the body has less tolerance or the belief that exercises that move the body in that way will cause pain. This may not be something we can change overnight but it definitely is something we can gradually work through to get you there.


How can Pilates help reduce your back pain?

There are many different types of back pain and some are much more serious than others so we would always suggest that if you are unsure you seek medical advice from a doctor or medical professional such as a Physio first. However from our understanding of back pain as briefly outlined above, I would agree that to some degree Pilates is safe for anyone as long as we are moving within tolerable ranges and at a level you feel comfortable at. There may be an exercise you come across that you think absolutely no way but actually that exercise can be broken down in to lots of little steps to help you get there and eventually you will wonder why you ever worried about it. You would also never start a with an exercise that is totally out there as it often takes time to build up to it but understanding the foundations first and gradually building both strength and endurance will help.

Pilates is a graded form of exercise, meaning there are varying progressions and orders of movements to take you through. Through all forms of Pilates instruction you will often come across the same sort of exercise but you may do different levels of it, in different positions or with different equipment. This changes the challenge both physically and mentally creating the mind-body connection that Pilates is so famous for.

Most systematic studies on treatments for back pain often come back to the same conclusion that exercise alone or in combination with education is effective for preventing lower back pain. With one study even finding "evidence that Pilates, McKenzie therapy and functional restoration were more effective than other types of exercise treatment for reducing pain intensity and functional limitations."

Muscle strengthening and flexibility are two of the keys ways for self management, this is why Pilates is such a fantastic tool as all movements will be strengthening an area of the body meaning those muscles work and lengthening another area meaning it stretches.

Are you ready to give Pilates a go yet? If so there is one final thing to consider....whether classes or private sessions are the best place to start.


Private sessions vs classes?

You're now ready to give Pilates a go but you're unsure whether a private session or class is more appropriate for you. This decision is based upon a few things such as time, budget and priorities.

Pilates is arguably seen as a luxurious extra as it can be expensive, however when you tally up the costs of regular checkups with your healthcare professional, the impact of being in constant niggly pain, the affect it can have you on both your physical and mental health and the activities it limits you from, you really start to see why it can become as essential for a lot of people. This is why we decided to start an online membership, hall classes and private sessions as we understand budget can be a limitation and we want to take that away from your decision.

Time is a big factor in starting Pilates, it can be for the majority an enjoyable form of exercise. You pop across to a class, leave feeling 2inches taller, a bit achy from all that work but you then don't think much about it until the next class. However if you are using it as a rehab tool or to help you towards a specific goal however big or small, it won't be just one hour every week that makes a difference its committing to regular practice whether that's 5minutes a day or a few classes a week. In order to combat lower back pain it needs to be regular movement whether that just one stretch every time you walk to the kettle, it all tally's up. Your health demands to be made a priority and you can feel a difference when you don't do it for a while.

If you were asking for my opinion and your budget allowed for it I would always suggest a 1-1 if you are wanting to work on solving a specific issue or looking for a tailor made home exercise programme. We keep our class sizes small but it is still challenging to keep an eye on every single detail across the class at one time. As you become more familiar with the movements and the corrections that are most applicable to you, this can easily be swapped or in conjunction with classes but at the end of the day if you want results it does take hard work, consistency and just generally a willingness to try.


If you still have any questions or further comments we would love to hear from you.

If you are interested in the medical reports used to write this blog piece, please take a look at the links below.

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