How to remedy back pain with pilates

Back pain; a condition most of us have, or will experience at some point in our lifetime. The leading cause of disability and missed work days in the UK, back pain can be debilitating, emotionally distressing and quite frankly, a pain in the neck. The main causes of back pain are postural. Unlike our ancestors who led more active lifestyles, most of the population today spend their days deskbound, (on average we sit for a minimum of 11 hours per day) making us prone to the negative effects of staying sedentary too long, some of which include inflexibility in the spine, muscle degeneration, pain in the neck and upper back, restricted breathing and organ compression.

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But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a beacon of light in the treatment and prevention of back pain… Pilates. Advocated by countless individuals (including us), Pilates is a firm favourite with physiotherapists and bodyworkers, thanks to it’s consistent efficacy in managing and improving the effects of upper and lower back pain. This is largely due to it’s ability to realign postural imbalances, strengthen the core and mobilise the spine. We are huge fans of this super functional movement practice. Let us share some specific Pilates exercises for back pain with you that can help ease some of the symptoms of back and neck pain .

Pilates exercises for upper back pain

If most of your day is spent sitting at a desk, craning your neck toward a keyboard or cradling a phone while you type (yes, this is a thing), this can strain the cervical vertebrae and become a pain in the neck, literally…but it doesn’t end there. This slumping action overextends the shoulder and back muscles as well, particularly the trapezius muscles. So what can we do?

Cat/Cow

Cat/Cow mobilises the spine by lengthening it in both directions. This is a great pose to practice daily.

  1. From all fours, place your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Take a full inhale and exhale to prepare, engaging your abdominal muscles.

  2. Exhale, drawing the abdominal muscles in and up, arch your back towards the sky like a cat stretching whilst simultaneously dropping your tailbone to the floor.

  3. Move from Cat to Cow pose by, inhaling to reverse the curve of the spine. As your tailbone moves up, your chest lifts and moves forward. Crown of the head ascends, lengthening the neck as an extension of your spine.

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Child’s pose (everybody’s favourite)

A nourishing and restful pose for those of us suffering from back pain.

From kneeling, take your knees as wide as your hips and take the head towards the floor. If your bum doesn’t reach your heels, try placing a rolled up blanket of bolster between your buttock and heels or rest the body on a bolster if you have one.

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These Pilates poses for the upper back will help to relieve tension in the upper thoracic spine, neck and shoulder girdle whilst opening the chest to help facilitate deeper and healthier breathing patterns. However, we do strongly recommend working one to one with a teacher for some additional upper back strengthening exercises as practicing these incorrectly could potentially aggravate your symptoms.

Pilates exercises for lower back pain

Pelvic Tilt to Pelvic Curl

Pelvic tilt begins to switch on the lower abdominal muscles whilst creating some length in the lumbar spine region.

  1. Lie on your back with a neutral spine, with your knees bent and feet hip width apart.

  2. Inhale then on the exhale, tilt the pelvis by engaging your abdominal muscles, drawing the belly button back towards your spine. Continue drawing the abdominals back, lengthening the lumbar spine into the floor.

  3. Inhale to return to a neutral spine or to curl up through the spine by pressing into the feet and allowing the tailbone to curl towards the ceiling. Support your body in one long line by using the hamstrings and abdominals.

  4. Exhale to release, rolling down vertebrae by vertebrae. Inhale to return to a neutral spine.

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Opposite Arm to Leg Reach

This is an excellent pose for strengthening the core, which we all need, and for lengthening the spine. It’s also great for improving co-ordination.

  1. From all fours, spine in a neutral position, engage the abdominals and lengthen the spine. Your face should be parallel with the floor.

  2. Lengthen the shoulders down the back, away from your ears, engage the shoulder girdle.

  3. Inhale to extend the right arm out in front of you and your left leg out behind you. Keep both limbs parallel to the floor.

  4. Hold for 1 - 3 breaths and exhale to return to all fours.

  5. Inhale to repeat on the second side.

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These poses can serve as an effective maintenance program once you have established a good foundational practice with a trusted teacher, which is extra important if you are suffering with back pain (or any pain in the body). When booking a session with My Method, you will be asked to fill in a detailed health questionnaire for us to familiarise ourselves with any injuries or conditions and assign the best expert for you. On your first session, your instructor will assess your general fitness and mobility and work with you to establish a tailored program addressing any issues or imbalances. This level of individual attention is invaluable to any practitioner but essential to those working with pain or physical limitations.

To get you started, book a session with one of our expert Pilates instructors in the comfort of your own surroundings.

Check out our other Back and Bone care articles on the blog too.