Many patients experience relief from their back pain through physical therapy, but I have had patients ask me if they could substitute Pilates for physical therapy. While I always recommend speaking to your doctor and physical therapist before trying a new exercise routine, Pilates does seem to help many patients strengthen an ailing back and gain flexibility.
What is now known as Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates during World War I. He rigged springs to hospital beds, which allowed bed-bound patients to exercise. This form of rehabilitation has been taken up by many athletes and dancers, and is particularly popular in the dance community.
If you have a back injury or have recently had back surgery, it is important to practice Pilates under the supervision of a qualified instructor, after the activity has been approved by your doctor or surgeon. It is often best for those suffering from chronic back ailments to take a few one-on-one classes with a certified Pilates instructor to better understand the form of the exercises, as well as the patient’s own limitations. After this introductory period, the patient might be able to move on to either online or in-person mat classes. Some exercises may be too challenging or damaging to those with specific back problems, so it is best to learn what movements to avoid before practicing alone or in a large class.
Pilates can be greatly beneficial to those suffering from back pain, as it strengthens the postural muscles and promotes the awareness of neutral spine alignment. It also increases the strength and flexibility of the shoulder and pelvic girdles, improving overall posture. Many Pilates exercises are full body movements which engage both the back and core. Strengthening these muscles can be very helpful to those with chronic back pain, as it can decrease gradual wear and tear by improving posture, as well as by strengthening the crucial supportive muscles of the back. If there is degeneration between vertebrae, strengthening the surrounding muscle can help support the ailing spine.
Back patients should make sure to avoid movements that include either extreme flexion or extension of the spine, as well as side bending with flexion or twisting. Your physician or physical therapist should be able to help you determine which movements should be restricted so that you can enjoy the benefits of Pilates without injury.