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Is Clinical Pilates useful for people with low back pain?

Updated: May 27, 2019

Approximately 85% of the US population will experience acute low back pain lasting 2-4 weeks. Let’s face it, we sit too much and move too little, which can contribute to weakness, stiffness and low back pain. If you are one of these people, you know the difficulties that accompany low back pain. Many people get better after 2-4 weeks, however, the pain may last weeks, months and years longer. If you are one of the few that are experiencing chronic low back pain, you may benefit from clinical Pilates.

Clinical Pilates is an approach that combines the benefits of Physical Therapy and Pilates- based exercises to turn on the deepest core muscles that are slow to rebound after an episode of acute low back pain. Instead of returning to normal looking and functioning spinal muscles they lose strength, reduce in size, and turn into fatty tissues. Fatty tissues do not provide the strength and stability to the bones in the back. Instead, the loss of ‘normal stiffness’ and strength of the spine allows unwanted, extra movements, causing wear and tear on the sensitive tissues of the bones, ligaments, joints, muscles and nerves in the back causing back pain. The back pain may eventually disappear, but the muscles haven’t regained their strength, size, stamina and stability without the proper deep core training.

Pilates works to strengthen the deepest core muscles of the abdominals and spinal muscles, returning the fatty, dysfunctional muscles to strong, resilient and stabilizing structures. When these muscles remain weak, you are more susceptible to re-injuring your back, or another body part, due to changes and adaptations as a result of the normal healing process. These movement adaptations are subtle and create compensations in how you move and your ability to properly access your deep core muscles. The subtle movement changes lead to tight, weak and deconditioned tissues setting you up for other injuries. Pilates helps identify the weak, tight and deconditioned tissues leaving you with a stronger, more flexible and balanced body.

Before beginning a Pilates program for back pain, check with your doctor or physical therapist. Once you are cleared to begin exercising, it’s always a good idea to work with an instructor who specializes in back pain. Some exercises may not be appropriate for your back based on your diagnosis, what movements alleviate and what movements aggravate your pain. For example, back pain due to a bulging disc may be made worse by sitting and forward leaning positions. For this reason, it is important that people who are experiencing back pain, are carefully assessed by a healthcare professional before starting a Pilates for back pain program.

Are you ready to reduce the wear and tear on your spine and create a stronger, more flexible and balanced body? Try Clinical Pilates…it does a body good!!

Dr. Rebecca Hoeck PT, DPT, CPI, CWC, CIDN, MPT-DMI Physical Therapist and Certified Pilates Instructor Owner and Clinic Director Intelligent Motion Therapy, LLC

Parker, Colorado

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