Pilates…..Does It Leave You With An Aching Back?
So you are doing everything right to take care of your back. You are taking Pilates once or twice a week. Trying to watch your posture when you sit. And yet you continue to be plagued by bouts of lower back pain that can ruin your whole day, even your entire week.
Or you may be going to Pilates and find you are walking away with more pain than when you arrived….
Why does this happen?….. “Is it because I am just getting old?”
Don’t jump on the “I am just getting old” boat yet.
Here are some quick statistics about lower back pain:
- 70-90% of the human population will experience lower back pain sometime in his/her life.
- 90% of all episodes of lower back pain will resolve on its own.
- Lower back pain is the NUMBER 1 cause if lost work days in the United States.
While some episodes of lower back pain are caused by a traumatic event (car accident, fall), the majority of all back pain is caused by poor posture and using poor body mechanics with our activities of daily living.
Causes of Lower Back Pain
- POSTURE….The number one cause of lower back pain is living life with poor posture. Basically, this means that how you sit, get out of bed, lift a child, push a vacuum cleaner or even stand in line at the grocery store can take its toll on your lower back and lead to back pain. And even the strongest of core muscles can not make up for poor posture and bad body mechanics.
- TRAUMATIC INJURY….such as a motor vehicle accident or slip/fall.
- MUSCLE IMBALANCES….You build the strength of one side of the body but not the other…that muscle imbalance can cause abnormal stress on parts of the body, leading to pain and injury.
- REPETITIVE MOVEMENTS….Repeating the same movements over and over….Factory workers, golfers, tennis players…This can be work-related stresses or recreational sport/exercise related.
- IMPROPER FORM WITH EXERCISE….Catapulting up with a Roll Up, not stabilizing properly when lifting weights, not controlling the movement of any exercise from start to finish. Your form and the form of all participants should be monitored by the instructor. Proper cuing, progression and form is the responsibility of the instructor.
Reasons why you would experience lower back back after Pilates:
- IMPROPER FORM WITH EXERCISE….Improper movements can place abnormal stresses on the body….thus causing achiness and injury.
- PROGRESSION OF EXERCISES TOO RAPIDLY….A good instructor will provide different levels for an exercise in a class. If you or the instructor progresses the Pilates exercises before your body is strong enough to maintain proper form with the progression, this can lead to stress to the body and injury.
- INCOMPLETE INSTRUCTION ON PROPER FORM BY INSTRUCTOR….A good instructor will provide constant verbal and/or tactile cues and monitoring of form and progression in a class. If an instructor provides incomplete instruction of exercises, this can lead to injury and pain.
- WORKING THE SAME SEQUENCING OF EXERCISES REPEATEDLY…If you go to a Pilates class that does the same exercises each and every time, in the same sequence…this can lead to over use and stress to the body. Go to a variety of classes that works all the parts of the body in many different ways. This keeps the body guessing and doesn’t cause repetitive stress to the body.
Tips for pain-free Pilates:
- PICK THE RIGHT INSTRUCTOR….Do your research, choose an instructor who is certified with plenty of experience. If you can find a Pilates instructor who is also a physical therapist, even better. Don’t hesitate to interview instructors. Try a few out to find the one that works best with you.
- IF IT HURTS, CONSULT THE INSTRUCTOR…There is no such thing as “No Pain, No Gain” in Pilates….if it is muscular discomfort and fatigue that is one thing…but experiencing sharp or stabbing pain or stress to joints and areas while taking a class is not normal. Don’t try to work through it. Modify the exercise first and then talk to the instructor so that she/he can provide alternative cues or exercises.
- DON’T PROGRESS TOO QUICKLY….I always say, “It is better to do 4 strong repetitions rather than 14 sloppy ones”….form is EXTREMELY important in Pilates. Do not progress the exercises to a level 2 or 3 if the body is not able to maintain perfect form with the progression. If you progress too quickly, your form will likely deteriorate and you are placing yourself at risk for injury.
- START OFF SLOW….If you are new Pilates or have been dealing with an injury, start your Pilates off slow. Schedule a few private sessions to make sure you understand the exercise and the instructor can make sure your form is correct from the start. Don’t schedule 5 classes in a week if you are just starting off. Start with 2 classes in a week, spaced out. Don’t hesitate to modify or take a break during a class if you fatigue and your form begins to deteriorate.
- PICK A VARIETY OF PILATES CLASSES…Pick a variety of classes…a Reformer class, a Mat class, a Restorative Reformer class. Classes that do not place the same kind of stresses/work on the body every time.
When NOT to do Pilates with a lower back injury…
- If you recently sustained a traumatic injury…Motor vehicle accident, slip or fall
- Recent episode of sharp/stabbing pain with activities. You may need more in-depth evaluation by a physician or physical therapist before participating in any form of exercise.
- Unexplained weight loss associated with the lower back injury….you will need to consult a physician.
- Saddle numbness or pain associated with the onset of lower back pain….you will need to consult a physician.
I once went to a physical therapy course and during the Q&A section of the course, one of the participants asked the orthopedic physician, who was speaking at the course, what he thought about Pilates. He said, “I love Pilates….it brings me plenty of patients.” This physician probably only sees the patients who come to him because they have been injured in a Pilates class. So he has developed an incomplete conclusion that Pilates causes lower back pain. If he had taken the time to do his research, he would have found that Pilates does not cause lower back injuries. How it is performed and progressed is likely the culprit.
Make sure you have the right instructor, and then listen to ALL of the cues the instructor is providing, modify as need and consult the instructor for further instruction as needed….that is key to getting stronger, taller and better with Pilates.
Always remember…you should feel “Better than when you walked in”….EVERY TIME you do Pilates.
Are you looking for the right instructor? ABS Pilates provides the most comprehensively trained and licensed Pilates instructor in the area.
ABS Pilates is located in Sunbury, Ohio. It services the Sunbury, New Albany, Gahanna, Westerville, Johnstown and Columbus areas.
ABS Pilates offers in-studio Mat and Equipment-based Pilates for all levels of fitness.