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Is Pilates Good For A Bad Back?

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

It is well known that Pilates is good for your back...but is it true or is it just hearsay?


I went on a mission to find out...

Research

According to the NHS website:

More research is needed, but there is some evidence to suggest that Pilates can be helpful for people who have lower back pain.

This was on a page with a 29 minute video titled 'Pilates for Chronic Back Pain' - so it appears dispite the lack of research they still endorse it.


A quick Google brings a plethora of articles and websites extoling the virtues of Pilates for backs.


But it also brings the Daily Mail and an article about how Pilates can actually make your back pain worse - in true Daily Mail style upon reading the article the headline is inflamatory and in the article they have interviewed only one person whos back got worse and one whos back actually healed quicker.


So unfortunately it seems I have no straight answer for you. Therefore I can only tell you about my own experiences and the experiences of those around me.


My Experiences

When I first trained as a Pilates instructor I did a 3 day add on certificate to my group exercise and gym qualification. It enabled me to teach in a group environment a fitness class based on Pilates call Fitness Pilates. After coming home armed with all my new class content I was showing some to my (at the time) future husband and he said "my dad does some of those for his bad back". It transpired that my father in law had been seeing a physio and been given a series of exercises to do at home and when ever he felt his back start to 'go' he did them and it felt better. These exercises were modified verisions of Pilates exercises - the exact same ones I did in my new Fitness Pilates class.


Skip foward and I am now level 3 qualified and have just embarked on my level 4. Over the years I can have met many people who have been refered to Pilates classes by their doctors or physios. You wouldn't believe the number of people who turn up to a group exercise session with back problems. The conversation always goes something like this - I have a bulging disc/sciatica/weak lower back - I've never done Pilates before - my doctor/physio told me to come. Luckily these days I am confident and well versed in what they can and can't do and can modifiy the class as we go along for them and most come away saying their backs feel stronger and less painful.


Then there is an previous customer of mine with a genetic condition that led to degenerated discs in their lower back. After many surgeries they were left with a lot of pain and restricted movement. After just a few private 1-2-1 sessions tailored to them and utilising exercises to help mobilise the lower back, stretch the surrounding muscles, strengthen the back and abdominals they progressed onto being able to perform a simple ballet barre. Something that was unthinkable before our sessions began.


Next is a client who still attends my lessons. They have sciatic pain but, as yet, no diagnosable condition. They absolutley swear by Pilates and the prickly balls - they never miss class as it will mean the sciatic pain plays up. After a break of nearly 18 months due to the pandemic they were heading towards surgery but now after classes have resumed and we've been going nearly 6 months it is no longer a neccesity.


Joseph Pilates

The creator of the Pilates method believed it could help mend your posture, spine and help mend your health. His entire system, originally called 'Controlology' was designed to strengthen what he calles 'the power house'. The powerhouse is the band of muscles that circles the middle of your body - from your lower back and spine round to your abdominals. Pilates first developed his method in the internment camps of World War 1 as a way to help keep his fellow internees healthy and fit. He belived that the modern lifestyle was destructive to the balance of body, mind and spirit and his method was a way to restore that balance. It's key to note that a lot of his quotes and teachings centre around posture and the spine. It's easy, therefore, to sumise that if he talked about posture and the spine a lot then that must have been one of the main focuses of his method.

If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

Conclusion

I absolutely believe Pilates can help with a multitude of heath conditions and especially those concerning the spine. Having seen myself the transformation a few sessions with the right exercises, intensity and 1-2-1 observation can bring about I always recommend Pilates for any kind of back problems. I especially believe, with all the core work in a Pilates class, that you can even rid yourself of your non-specific back pain if it doesn't have a diagnosable cause. Remember the spine is made up of many small joints that need to be kept flexible - just like anything it stiffens and becomes immobile if you don't.


So lets spread the word and improve eveyones backs, spines and health!


Victoria xx


P.S.

Obviously listen to your body and if at any point something doesn't feel right, or goes numb, stop and tell your instructor or better yet your doctor - don't be douche and carry on like the lady in the Daily Mail article and still expect to heal...


Sources:


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