Pilates for Back Pain. Best Exercises You Can Do at Home

Back pain is a major global challenge. Over 550 million people suffer from chronic lower back pain at any one time. Issues can arise from injury, pregnancy, herniated disks, or lack of strength and flexibility in the spine. Let’s take a deep dive into how Pilates may help with your back pain.

Key takeaways:
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    Back pain can be skeletal, muscular, a strain, or a tear.
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    Always seek a proper diagnosis from your primary care physician.
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    Be mindful in your Pilates practice and don’t overstretch before you are ready.
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    The Pilates method is based on human anatomy, working with the natural spirals in the body.
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    Regular Pilates practice can help ease back pain as you build strength and support in the surrounding muscles.

Pilates is a system of exercises performed to promote strength, stability, and flexibility. The practice puts great emphasis on movement coming from the center of your body, also referred to as the ‘trunk.’ Pilates can be performed on a mat or using equipment, such as the reformer, cadillac, or barrel.

How can Pilates help my back pain?

Pilates can help back pain by strengthening and stabilizing muscles in your core. In turn, this increased support promotes better posture. Improved alignment means there is less compression on the disks in your lumbar spine, thus preventing and reducing chronic back pain.

By having regular Pilates practice, you can expect to improve the flexibility and movement of your spine. Keeping your body supple is one of the most important preventative measures for back pain and overall health and well-being.

Where should I start If I am a complete beginner?

It can be hard to know where to start when you are a beginner. Let’s look at some simple ways you can incorporate Pilates into your daily life as part of your back pain management schedule.

Pick a Pilates class near you

Depending on the severity of your back pain, picking a ‘Pilates for back pain’ class may be advised. Inform the instructor about your back pain before class and ensure they are experienced with those issues. A good teacher should give you adjustments and modifications when needed.

Have one-to-one Pilates sessions

Find a teacher who can guide you through a program specifically designed to suit your needs and goals. A good teacher should first ask you for your case history to gain clarity on how best to help you.

Develop your practice at home

You can find great beginner Pilates classes online. Make sure these are live Zoom classes when starting so the teacher can give you corrections and feedback. You can also check out some best home Pilates exercises for back pain listed below.

Best Pilates exercises for back pain that you can do at home

With a busy schedule, it can be hard to find the time to make it to a Pilates class in person. You can take charge of your practice and implement these exercises, which may help with your back pain. Remember to go slowly and move with your breath.

Exercise 1: Pelvic Tilt

woman doing pilates pelvic tilt
  • Lie in a semi-supine position, with your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor under your knees.
  • Place your hands on the bony parts of your pelvis, on either side of your lower abdomen.
  • Inhale and extend your lower spine away from the mat, tilting your pelvis forward and up.
  • On the exhalation, lower your pelvis, imprinting your lower spine into the mat. Once your spine is fully on the mat, you have completed one set.
  • Keep moving through these two positions. Imagine your pelvis is like a big bowl of water, each time spilling it towards your feet and then toward your upper body.
  • Repeat eight sets.

Exercise 2: Chest Lift

woman doing pilates chest lifts
  • Lie in a semi-supine position, with your hands interlaced behind your head. Make sure your head is heavy in your hands.
  • Inhale to prepare, expanding your rib cage out to the sides.
  • Exhale, draw your navel to your spine and slightly up as you draw your ribcage down, whilst lifting your shoulders off the mat, creating a ‘C’ shape curve in the upper body. Hold for one second.
  • Slowly lower your upper body back down to the mat with control.
  • Repeat twelve times, synchronizing your breath and movement.

Exercise 3: Breaststroke

woman doing pilates Breaststroke lay down
woman doing pilates Breaststroke lift up
  • Lie on your front. Gently press your pubic bone into the mat to ensure your lumbar spine is lengthened. Maintain this alignment throughout the exercise.
  • Place your arms in a cactus position, with your hands parallel to your head and your palms facing down.
  • Hover your arms off the mat, also lifting your chest off the mat, and inhale to prepare.
  • On the exhalation extend your arms out in front of you whilst simultaneously lowering your upper body, and inhale as you circle the arms out to the sides, lifting the chest at the same time.
  • Ensure you are engaging your mid and upper-back muscles without putting stress on the lower back.
  • Repeat eight times, ensuring you move in a controlled way with the breath and movement synchronized.

Benefits of Pilates for back pain

The tissues closest to your bones help to keep you stabilized. Pilates improves strength in those deep stabilizing muscles. This means you will improve your alignment and feel a deep sense of connection to the center of your body without overworking or only relying on your back muscles.

Pilates uses full-body integration with the muscles working as one to support each moving part. Having an integral support structure will keep you robust, creating resilience against injuries and pain.

Seeing results once you start Pilates can vary for everyone, depending on your specific case. You could feel a difference in your body after as little as four sessions or it may take you a few months. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t see results straight away. Pilates is not a magic wand, it’s a long-term lifestyle choice.

Make sure you have a diagnosis for your back pain and speak to your doctor before undertaking any form of new exercise. Your Pilates teacher must have this record information. If you see a physiotherapist or osteopath, you could ask both parties to collaborate. When your healthcare team is in communication, your movement practice and structural treatments will be in alignment. Both can help to create a well-rounded picture of what’s going on.

Remember to go slowly when starting, be mindful of your technique and alignment and gradually build up to more challenging exercises once you feel ready. Remember: having a Pilates practice is not a quick fix, it’s a lifelong process to keep your body healthy and functioning optimally.

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