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Pilates for Back Pain

Using pilates for back pain has become increasingly popular in recent years, with the fitness trend gaining quite the reputation as an effective rehabilitation regime. Beautifully toned celebrities often credit pilates for their physique but signing up to a local class or doing a workout at home may be inadvisable if you have spinal stenosis and back pain. Pushing your body too far, and too fast can have dire consequences so make sure you know how to use pilates for back pain safely and effectively.

Improving Quality of Life with Pilates

Pilates can help tone and strengthen core muscles and help the body restore good posture, poise and mobility. Feeling more confident in body strength and exercise capacity is a key part of improving quality of life for those with chronic pain conditions. Several elements of pilates, as well as pieces of pilates equipment, have been co-opted by other fitness trends, taking advantage of the usefulness of what actually started as a form of rehabilitative therapy for sculpting the body and staying fit.

Pilates Equipment for Back Pain

Equipment used in pilates can include exercise balls to help strengthen core muscles by engaging them in micromovements to control balance. Workout bands, mats, blocks and more advanced equipment such as the Reformer and Wunda Chair can also be incorporated into a pilates regime. Before using any such equipment, however, it is important to discuss the exercises with a physician or physical therapist familiar with the specific nature of your back pain.

Using Pilates Equipment Safely

When doing pilates for back pain it may be that certain pieces of equipment can be used, but only in specific ways. For example, sitting on a pilates exercise ball, knees bent, and rolling forward into a sitting squat can help open up the spaces in the spine whilst providing support and stability absent from usual squat exercises. Conversely, draping your body backwards over an exercise ball will close up the spaces in the lumbar spine and likely exacerbate lumbar spinal stenosis, trapping nerves and leading to pain, paraesthesia, or worse.

Spinal Stenosis and Pilates – Precautions to Take

Mat-based exercises are usually included in a pilates workout and, again, many of these can be suitable for back pain sufferers when done appropriately. If engaging in a pilates class with back pain it is vital to let the instructor know of your condition in advance as they will then understand why you need to sit out certain stretches and exercises. Some pilates instructors are experienced with spinal stenosis and other health conditions and may actually specialize in helping with rehabilitation and back pain relief. Water-based pilates can also be useful for those recovering from a back injury or surgery and takes the form of resistance bands attached to the pool with suction cups, allowing the patient to exercise whilst being supported by the water.

pilates for back pain reformer workout machine

Pilates Reformers can cost from a few hundred dollars to nearly $2500 but may help strengthen the back.

Pilates – The Reformer

Using equipment such as the pilates Reformer definitely requires additional guidance from an instructor with knowledge of physical therapy for back pain and the experience to know which exercises are not to be performed. The Reformer is a piece of equipment made up of a wooden or steel frame and to which a sliding board is attached, connected to a series of springs. Lying on this board, you use your feet, hands, legs and arms to push off the frame, toning a variety of muscles. A Head and Neck Support Pillow is available for use with the Reformer to reduce stress on the spine.

Precision and Control

As with yoga, much of the success of pilates is based on controlled movements and initiates to the fitness regime often make the mistake of wanting to do too much too soon. Working on slowing down and controlling movements precisely is often much more effective than doing many fast repetitions of the same incorrect movement. Some pilates equipment has been specially designed with the back pain sufferer in mind, such as the Spine Corrector Barrel that can help achieve a supported back stretch to match the natural curvature of the spine.

Stability, Strength, Safety

Pilates props can include resistance bands and blocks that help you use your own weight and strength to exercise muscles and create fluidity of movement. The pilates chair or Wunda Chair can be a wonderful piece of equipment for back pain sufferers as it uses movement and resistance to strengthen and stretch muscles without placing huge stress on the joints and the spine. Many local health clubs and gyms will have a Wunda Chair available for use under instruction and this can be particularly good for rehabilitation after back injury or spine surgery for spinal stenosis.

The Cost of Pilates

Individual machines such as the Reformer can be quite costly but it may be helpful to find fellow back pain sufferers also interested in using such a machine regularly for pilates exercises. Covering the costs together can work out to be more economical than continued gym membership and the cost of pilates classes, as well as providing more convenient access to the equipment. Even if buying the equipment for home use, it is of paramount importance that back pain sufferers learn to use pilates equipment safely. It can be incredibly effective to use pilates for back pain relief, but check with your physician prior to doing any new exercises when you have spinal stenosis.

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