Back pain is very common, and so it is not surprising that most of us experience this pain at some point in our lives. Numerous aspects can cause it, but the primary one is poor posture. For some, the pain goes away after a short while or after resting. However, for others the pain is persistent and results in a long-term back problem. To help relieve back pain and tension, experts recommend doing pilates for back pain. These are simple exercises that have been found effective in back pain management.
This article features the pilates that are highly recommended for back pain. We will discuss each of these exercises and give a step-by-step guide on how to perform them for reduced back pain. Let us get started!
What Are Pilates And Why Do Them?
Pilates refer to exercise methods consisting of low-impact flexibility, muscular strength and endurance workouts (6). These exercises emphasize proper postural alignment, muscle balance, and core strength (6).
Doing pilates is a good idea as it helps you achieve several health benefits. According to Mayo Clinic, doing pilates exercise can help you attain the following (6):
- Improved Core Strength and Stability. As mentioned above, these exercises focus on muscle balance and core strength. Performing them regularly can help improve your core stability and strength.
- Improved Flexibility. Performing these exercises frequently can also help prevent muscle tightness and stiffness, which helps improve flexibility.
- Improved Balance and Posture. All pilates exercises call upon proper postural alignment. Maintaining the correct posture can help improve your overall posture and balance.
- Prevention and Treatment of Back Pain. Mayo Clinic reveals that doing pilates exercises can also prevent and treat back pain if done correctly (6).
- They Complement Other Exercises. According to Medicine Net, pilates can also be done as a complement to other exercises such as resistance training (5).
Which Is Better For Treating Back Pain Yoga Or Pilates?
Before we look at some pilates exercises for back pain, let us first explore one of the common topics of discussion. Many people frequently ask which is a safer exercise program for back pain between yoga and pilates.
Research indicates that both programs can help reduce and treat back pain (4). It also acknowledges that both regimes have a vast array of health benefits and improve overall fitness (4). So, it is safe to say that neither is superior to the other.
In the end, it all comes down to your preference. Some people may prefer yoga because of its additional benefits, such as relaxation. Others may opt for pilates due to their vast array of health benefits. They are both valuable and will result in reduced back pain.
Pilates Exercises For Lower Back Pain
The following pilates exercises are frequently recommended for anyone with lower back pain. They help reduce or prevent lower back pain and tension. That said, you will only reap these benefits when you master the correct technique and maintain good alignment. So, pay attention to the given steps on how to perform each of these exercises.
It is also important to note that you should only try these exercises after consulting with your healthcare provider. Once you get the green light, consider adding any of these pilates exercises for back pain to your workout plan:
The Knee-To-Chest Stretches
These are the effective and highly recommended pilates stretches for lower back pain. The stretch elongates your lower back, helping to relieve any pain and tension in that area (3). Below are the steps to guide you on how to perform this stretch (3):
- Lie on the floor facing the ceiling.
- Bend your knees and let both feet firmly rest on the ground.
- Take both hands and have them pull one knee in towards your chest. Make sure you do not lift your head off the floor or arch your back.
- Hold your knee close to your chest for at least five seconds or so. Remember to tighten your abdominal muscles and rest your spine on the floor for reduced injury risk.
- After five seconds, release the knee and return it to the initial position.
- Repeat this two or three times before progressing to the other leg.
Safety Tips: Keep your back straight and spine on the floor throughout the movement to avoid additional back pain. Similarly, hold the stretch and do not move the knee to help relieve the tension and pain in your lower back.
The Lower Back Rotational Stretches
As the name suggests, these stretches target your lower back. They help relieve tension in your trunk and lower back (3). You can also perform these stretches to improve stability as they also target your core muscles (3). Below is the step-by-step guide on how to perform these rotational stretches (3):
- Lie on your back and bend your knees. Keep your feet firmly pressed on the ground and your arms by your sides.
- Extend your arms by your sides and gently start rolling both bent knees to your right side.
- Keep your back straight and on the floor throughout.
- Pause at the bottom of the movement for five to ten seconds before returning to the starting position.
- Repeat two or three times on each side and at least twice a day.
Safety Tips: Keep your shoulders and back firmly resting on the ground. Also, balance your reps on both sides for equal gains.
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The Child’s Pose
The Child’s Pose can be classified as a yoga stretch or pilates exercise to help relieve back pain. It helps lengthen the back muscles, which helps get rid of muscle tightness or stiffness (1). Follow these steps to perform this stretch (1):
- Start on all fours. Make sure your arms are directly beneath your shoulders and knees are slightly wider than your hip-width distance.
- Start to sit back and stretch your arms forward slowly. You can rest your forehead on the ground or some inches above the ground. It all depends on your point of comfort.
- Try to lengthen your spine as much as you can without straining or overstretching it. Stop whenever you feel any additional back pain.
- Hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
Safety Tip: Your back posture matters a lot in this exercise. Keep it straight as indicated in the steps, and only lengthen your spine as far as you can comfortably lengthen it.
The Cat-Cow Stretch
You will also find this stretch being categorized in the list of practical yoga exercises for your back. Regardless if it is classified as a yoga stretch or pilates stretch, the fact is that it helps relieve back pain. Do not be fooled by its simple technique, as it is pretty easy to injure yourself when doing this exercise. So, make sure you adhere to the following guidelines (1):
- Start on all fours. Make sure your back is straight, and your arms are under your shoulders.
- Slowly start tilting your pelvis backward, which will allow your spine to curve downward.
- Make sure you breathe in and lift your head upwards when your spine curves downward.
- Start moving the pelvis in the opposite direction, which will make your spine rounded.
- Draw your navel towards the spine and remember to exhale.
- Slowly drop your head and look towards the ground.
- Repeat this several times.
The Chest Lift Exercise
Weak abdominal muscles also cause lower back pain. To help reduce back pain caused by this aspect, experts recommend you perform a chest lift. The exercise actively engages your abdominal muscles, which gives them a proper workout and helps in strengthening them. Check out the steps required to perform chest lifts:
- Lie on your back with your arms at your sides.
- Bend your knees and let the feet press flat on the ground. Make sure that you also keep the feet hip-width apart.
- Move your hands to the back of your head and interlace your fingers behind your head.
- Bend your elbows such that they are both pointing to their respective sides.
- Start to lift your head and upper trunk towards the ceiling slowly. This will move your shoulder blades off the floor and up. Remember that the idea is to lift your chest off the floor and not your entire upper body. So, make sure that your lower back, close to your waistline does not lift from the ground.
- Breathe in and engage your abdominal muscles as you lift your chest.
- Breathe out and lower your head and chest to the floor to the initial stance. Remember to engage your abdominal muscles, even when releasing to the starting position.
- Repeat ten times.
Safety Tips: The major mistake most people make when doing chest lifts is listing their entire upper body. Keep in mind that this is a chest lift and not a sit-up. Additionally, many individuals make the mistake of applying too much pressure on their heads when lifting it off the floor. It strains your neck and changes the positioning of your elbows. Remember that they must point outward to the respective sides.
The Cobra Stretch
- Start by lying on your stomach with your legs stretched behind you.
- Place your hands shoulder-width apart and rest them just a few inches in front of your hips.
- Slowly push through your hands to lift your upper body from the ground. Remember to press your hips into the floor as you lift your upper body. Additionally, remember to keep your spine neutral to avoid further back pain.
- Hold the position at the top of the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds.
- Release back to the ground and repeat the movement five times.
Safety Tips: Breath in and engage your back muscles when lifting your upper body from the floor. When you lift your upper body, try to raise both your chest and head and face directly ahead.
The Bridge Pose
The Bridge Pose is highly recommended when you need to target your gluteus maximus thighs. It ranks as one of the best exercises to help in toning and sculpting your butt. However, Mayo Clinic also suggests that this exercise can help relieve back pain (7). Here are steps to help you perform this stretch (7):
- Lie on your back and rest your arms by your sides.
- Bend your knees and have your feet firmly pressed on the ground but hip-width apart.
- Push into your feet and start to lift your lower back from the floor slowly. Remember to engage your back and gluteus maximus muscles during the lift. Similarly, pay attention to your form and bring your hips in line with your shoulders and knees.
- Keep your hands on the floor and by your sides throughout the movement. They will provide stability during the movement.
- Hold the pose for 15 seconds before lowering your lower body on the floor.
- Repeat five times.
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The Spine Twist Exercise
- Start in a seated position on the floor. Make sure you sit upright such that your back is straight and that your hips form a 90-degree angle with your upper body.
- Stretch your legs in front of you and squeeze them together.
- Straighten your arms out to your sides at shoulder height and make sure they are parallel to the floor.
- Inhale and pull your navel towards your spine.
- Breathe out and rotate your torso to one side while still maintaining an upright posture.
- Keep your butt firmly pressed on the floor and look behind you.
- Hold this position for at least three seconds, breathe in, and return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side.
Safety Tips: Pay attention to the alignment of your upper body and placement of your head and arms in this movement. Any slight adjustment or sudden shifts to the movement to the given posture may increase your risk of injury.
The Corkscrew Exercise
- Lie on your back and rest your arms by your sides.
- Straighten your legs and start lifting them towards the ceiling. Make sure you keep your knees and thighs close together during the lift.
- Remember to breathe normally and allow your spine to sink into the floor.
- Breathe in and start moving your legs to one side. Draw a small circle using your legs, and remember to keep them close together all through the movement.
- Additionally, remember to keep your hips on the floor when you are drawing these small circles.
- Return to the initial stance and repeat on the other side. Do this exercise five to six times on each side.
Safety Tips: This exercise combines many movements all at once. Try to perform it in a slow and controlled manner to avoid missing a step or doing an activity in the wrong way.
The Bird Dog Stretch
Another effective exercise to perform for reduced back pain is the Bird Dog stretch. Stretching with this exercise will allow your back muscles to lengthen and fight any tightness or stiffness causing the pain. Below are the steps to help you stretch using this move (2):
- Start on your fours. Your hands must be directly under your shoulders and knees, slightly apart.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and slowly lift and extend your right leg behind you. Lift it as high as your hips level. At the same time, stretch your left arm in front of you and make sure you are looking towards the floor.
- Hold this stretch for at least five seconds.
- Return to the starting position and repeat eight to twelve times before switching sides.
Safety Tips: While doing the Bird Dog stretch, make sure you do not let your lower back muscles sag. Instead, you are advised to keep your back straight and only raise your limbs to heights where your lower back position is maintained (2).
The Bottom Line
Both yoga and pilates are effective exercise programs to consider for reduced back pain. Pilates for back pain is easy to perform and helps improve balance, posture, stability, flexibility, and core strength. Some of the highly recommended pilates exercises for back pain are chest lifts, rotational stretches, Knee-To-Chest, Bird Dog, Cat-Cow, Cobra, Corkscrew, and Child’s pose stretch. Remember to talk to your trainer and doctor before making any changes to your fitness program.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Best stretches for lower back flexibility and pain relief (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Good and Bad Exercises for Low Back Pain (2020, webmd.com)
- How to strengthen the lower back (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Is Pilates Better Than Yoga? (2021, webmd.com)
- Pilates (2021, medicinenet.com)
- Pilates for beginners: Explore the core (2019, mayoclinic.org)
- Slide show: Back exercises in 15 minutes a day (2016, mayoclinic.org)