December 28, 2017

Beat Back Pain with Better Breathing and Do Pilates

Do you suffer with back pain?  Does it seem like you’ve tried a million different things to make the pain go away… From Doctor’s visits, to taking pain pills, a few trips to your favorite Chiropractor, perhaps a massage, long soaks in the tub, or maybe just doing nothing – hoping that if you rest long enough it will make your back pain go away and you can get on with your life.  How much time have you spent paying attention to your posture? Do you know if your breathing habits are helping or hurting your back?  Have you tried Pilates yet?

It’s true that sometimes rest IS the best medicine.  Pain pills and cortisone shots are only going to mask your pain, which means if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, chances are you’re going to make things worse instead of better. You should always get any injury or back pain problem checked out by your Doctor to be sure that it’s nothing serious that really does need medical attention.  But if you’re feeling stuck and frustrated, or have settled into a lifestyle hampered by chronic aches and pain and are sick and tired of your lingering back pain getting in the way of enjoying life – it’s way past time that you find a great Pilates teacher and invest your time and energy into improving posture, breathing, and body awareness for better functional movement – You need to do Pilates!

Everyone has dominant and weaker muscles, but we’re not always conscious of our good and bad movement habits.  There’s a “tipping point,” when your muscle imbalances become great enough, chronic pain or injury will be the result.  It’s not until you start to recognize your good and bad posture and movement habits, and begin to do the right exercises to eliminate the gap between your strengths and weaknesses that you can bring the body into balance for improved whole-body health.  And this is what the Pilates Method does brilliantly!

The Pilates Method

Pilates has been used to improve health and fitness since the early 1920’s.  The Pilates Method is a mind-body system designed to improve whole-body health with the use of specialized spring-tension equipment, including the Reformer and the Trapeze Table (aka the Cadillac) that can help take the pressure off your back and other joints while you work to improve breathing, posture, body alignment, muscle strength, and flexibility.   By using the support of the Pilates equipment and the resistance of the springs to work against you can quickly start to re-train your body, eliminate chronic aches and pains, and start feeling better fast.  If poor posture habits and muscle imbalances (anywhere from your head to your toes) are contributing to your back-pain problems, you will discover with a little effort to get the right parts of your body supporting you better, that it is possible to eliminate back pain, and enjoy a healthy, active life.

It’s fine to say, “if I just had a stronger core, my back wouldn’t hurt.”  But in fact, a lot more is involved in keeping your back healthy than just doing sit-ups!  Keep in mind, your abs are only one small part of the “core.”  Your feet, legs, pelvis, shoulders – while not “core” all relate to, and must move with the support of your back, and belly.  If anything hurts, chances are your whole body is compensating!  Which means the longer you do nothing (or the wrong things…) the stronger your bad habits get that are keeping your back hurting.

Ideally, the back needs to be strong for stability, and flexible for mobility.  The spine has many segments, or vertebrae, and in a healthy back each segment should be able to articulate freely to bend the body forward, backwards, sideways and twist.  If you’re experiencing back pain, movement in one, or all of these different directions, may be painful.   With Pilates, the goal is to improve stability and reduce pain first, then work to improve mobility, so you can bend, twist, and move without back pain.

To move the segments of your spine there needs to be enough space between them!  Therefore, paying attention to your posture and breathing habits is very important.  Learning to stack your body up properly from the soles of the feet all the way to the top of your head, and engaging the right muscles to help you fight gravity are KEY to improving strength and flexibility, and ultimately getting rid of back pain.

What’s the big deal with breathing?

Are you conscious of your current breathing habits?  Do you breathe into the front of your chest? In and out with your abs? Up the back of your ribcage?  What is the relationship of your hips to your shoulders? Where are the pivot points for the three natural curves of the spine?  What is the natural resting place for your pelvis – when you’re standing, seated, and lying down?  How far forward is your head in relationship to your shoulders? The answers to these questions directly correlate to if your current breathing habits are helping your back get better, or keeping you stuck in a cycle of back pain problems.

Pilates can help you pay better attention, and learn better ways to stand, sit, breathe, and move.  Pilates posterior-lateral breathing is excellent to assist with decompression of the spine.  This means every inhale helps create more space between the joints and every exhale helps you improve “core” support.  Once you learn and feel proficient with your Pilates breathing habits, this can be practiced throughout the day to help keep back pain away.

Once your back gets better, there are additional Pilates Chair, Barrel, and Matwork exercises that can be added to your workouts.  In fact, there are over 500 Classical Pilates exercises, and hundreds more contemporary exercises, modifications, and more challenging exercises that make Pilates an excellent lifetime fitness activity to help you maintain good health for your back and whole-body.  What are you waiting for?  Pilates just might be the best investment you’ve ever made to improve your health, and help eliminate back pain.

Aliesa George | 
PMA-CPT, ACE Personal Trainer, Healthy Movement Mentor, Pilates Guru, Foot Fitness Fanatic, Fascia Stretching Sage – Aliesa is the founder of Centerworks®, and passionate about helping people connect mind, body, and movement for wellness success.  With over forty years’ experience in the health and wellness industry, as an author, coach, personal trainer, Pilates teacher, wellness program developer, and presenter, she strives to improve how people move, one body at a time, with the goal to help reduce risk of injury, eliminate pain, and empower clients to enjoy a healthy, active life.

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