Pilates is an exercise program that focuses on the core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of neutral alignment of the spine and strengthening the deep postural muscles that support this alignment, which are important to help alleviate and prevent back pain.
- Use of mental focus to improve movement efficiency and muscle control
- Awareness of neutral spine alignment, or proper posture, throughout the exercises
- Development of the deep muscles of the back and abdomen to support this posture
- Use of breath to promote mental focusing and centering
- Creating length, strength, and flexibility in muscles
Patients with pain stemming from excessive movement and degeneration of the intervertebral discs and joints are particularly likely to benefit from a Pilates exercise program. In addition, postural asymmetries can be improved, thus decreasing wear and tear resulting from uneven stresses on the intervertebral joints and discs.
Pilates improves strength, flexibility and suppleness of the muscles of the hip and shoulder girdle. The Pilates program also teaches awareness of movement habits that may stress the spine, and helps the patient change these habits to those that preserve neutral alignment. Awareness of excessive tension and the use of proper focus helps the patient use the body efficiently.
Individuals with significant back problems may benefit from several one-on-one Pilates sessions with a qualified Pilates instructor. While more expensive than a group class or mat class, the time, money and effort devoted to learning the exercises correctly can be well worth the investment, as exercises performed incorrectly can make a back problem worse.
Finally, it may take awhile for the full benefits of a Pilates exercise program to be realized. Just as problems that create most back pain problems happen gradually over time, learning to use one’s muscles in a way that support – rather than stress – the spine takes time and commitment.