Pilates: A Cure for Back Pain

Most people at some time in their lives will experience some form of back pain. Back pain is one of the leading causes of missed work and statistics show that anywhere from 50% to 80% of adults will experience at least one episode of back pain during their lives. I suspect it might be even more than that. The good news is that most back pain is very treatable with a combination of exercise and healthy living habits.

At a relatively young age, I developed serious low back pain. I was in my mid-20s, fit, slender, and active. Doctors had no idea what had caused this condition and the general conclusion was that I had simply inherited it from my family. Maybe so. My dad struggled with back pain for much of his life as did his two siblings.

Several years and several episodes of crippling pain later, I discovered the Pilates method of fitness. I had been teaching aerobics for a few years and did some freelance writing for an on-line fitness journal. One day, out of the blue, I decided to write about Pilates – a topic that I knew nothing about. Researching and working on that article changed my life.

I wrote the article in late 1998. At that time there weren’t many Pilates studios or Instructors. Even the Internet wasn’t very helpful because at that time search engines were still a relatively new concept. In addition to technology, Pilates was still not nearly as well-known or available as it is today.

I discovered that there was only one Pilates studio in the greater Charlotte, NC area. I made an appointment to meet with the instructor so I could interview her for the article. She was not only helpful in my quest to learn more about Pilates, but she also gave me a mini lesson. Well, that’s all it took; I was hooked. I immediately started to take regular weekly classes with her. It took me almost an hour to get to her studio, but it was worth every minute of the long drive.

Over the next few years as I pursued becoming a teacher myself. I wanted to help others experience the same benefits that I had. I was also thrilled to find that my back pain had all but disappeared. Granted I had the occasional flare-ups, but they never lasted long. Not only did I feel stronger and more centered, but I also felt I could do so much more.

Fast forward 20 plus years later, and I am still teaching Pilates and I still feel like this is what is keeping my back pain free.

Many of my clients come to me complaining of chronic back pain. After a few sessions with me using the reformer, The Cadillac table, and the mat, they start to feel relief. Many were afraid to move for fear of pain. I don’t know how many times I have heard the phrase ‘I can’t do that anymore’. After a few sessions they found out that they were able to do what they once could.

I don’t believe there is really any magic in ‘fixing’ back pain, but there are some key components in learning how to move well. Here is a list of a few things that really help lessen or completely get rid of back pain:

  1. Learn to move without fear. The body is a lot tougher than we have been led to believe. Movement is good and will eventually help to eliminate or lessen muscle pain and tightness. The old school advice was to stay in bed stiff as a board until the pain was gone was not good advice. Bodies need to move.
  2. Increase your body awareness. Sadly, not everyone is born with good body awareness. However, body awareness can be taught by an experienced teacher. Practicing daily can really help someone to feel more connected to their body. After just a few weeks of regular Pilates classes a person can gain a new understanding of how their body moves in space.
  3. Learn healthy body mechanics. Before you do something like lift a heavy box off the ground or rotate your body to pick up something you dropped, think about the best way to do this without straining your lower back. Body awareness can really help a person to move more gracefully and thoughtfully reducing the risk of back pain.
  4. Find a series of exercises that help with flexibility, strength and joint mobility and do them daily. I have my own clients do daily and sometimes twice daily exercises that do wonders to help alleviate back pain and reduce the occurrence of back spasms.
  5. Finally, learn to relax. It’s easier said than done in this age of stress and anxiety. The mind can often wreak havoc on the body when stress levels get too high. 10 or 15 minutes of daily relaxation whether through meditation or even just a short nature walk can really help to decrease the effects of stress.

Chronic back pain is very common and very treatable in most cases. Just remember you are not alone and there are many ways to combat this condition.

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