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Clinical Pilates for Lower Back Pain

July 22nd, 2021

What is Clinical Pilates?

According to PhysioAdvisor, Clinical Pilates is “a form of physical exercise that focuses on posturecore stabilitybalancecontrolstrengthflexibility, and breathing. Clinical Pilates focuses on the retraining and recruitment of stabilizing muscles (core stability) and is used in conjunction with physiotherapy as a means of treating a variety of injuries. The Pilates Method was developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century in Germany.”

Clinical Pilates focuses on retraining movement patterns with improved abdominal control, body awareness, and proper breathing. It is more important to focus on the quality of each posture/movement and the integration of the whole body; this is the focal point of Clinical Pilates.

Benefits of Clinical Pilates

Pilates can help to facilitate body awareness and abdominal control. Clinical Pilates with a physiotherapist uses Pilates-based exercises in conjunction with other physiotherapy techniques such as joint mobilization and soft tissue release. Your Pilates based exercise program will be tailored specifically to your needs. In clinic we often use equipment such as a reformer, Cadillac/springboard and mat to help you to facilitate improved movement patterns. Equally important, Pilates increases awareness for an optimal posture and more efficient body mechanics. When we stand or sit with a taller and more supported spine, we create space in the spine, relieving pressure.  

Causes of Back Pain

Sometimes the cause of back pain isn’t the back at all but rather an imbalance in the hips or pelvis. Over time, our unconscious habits like sinking into one hip while standing or crossing one leg over the other while seated can contribute to back pain. Pilates exercises are designed to counteract and address these postural imbalances. Some exercises such as Footwork on the Reformer or the Legs in Springs on the Cadillac can bring to light the differences between the two sides of our bodies. Your physiotherapist will be able to observe potential problems such as one leg that works harder or one side of the hip that sits higher than the other. Your physiotherapist will then design an individualized exercise program for you to help you work on improving these imbalances and stabilizing your low back, pelvis and hips, thereby lessening the strain on your back.

Pilates can be helpful to counteract the strain on our bodies due to our modern lifestyles. Lots of driving or sitting at a desk can lead to tight hamstring muscles and weak gluteal muscles. This pulls the lumbar spine (lower back) creating strain. Similarly, hunching over our phones and desktop computers creates a kyphotic (rounded forward) posture. Pilates exercises emphasize the “neutral spine,” an ideal posture that respects the natural, healthy curves of the lower, mid and upper back.

How Clinical Pilates Can Help

A single Pilates workout can sometimes improve back pain in the same way that a massage can bring relief to tight muscles. But for more lasting results and to prevent future flare-ups, it is recommended to get in two or three Pilates workouts per week.

Give yourself at least four to six weeks to feel the results. Note that these workouts don’t have to be grueling hour-long sessions at a studio or at physical therapy clinic. Your physiotherapist will give you a home program and even a short series of simple exercises and stretches that done consistently, can create lasting improvement. Your Clinical Pilates practice can help you to automatically begin to implement more efficient movement patterns into your daily activities such as unloading groceries from the car or picking up a toddler. Pilates can help to create more awareness of more effective spinal alignment and improved posture, so if you feel yourself starting to slump, hunch or dump into one hip, you can correct it in the moment.

In short, Clinical Pilates can empower you to work on the problem (less efficient movement patterns) while also relieving the symptoms (back pain and discomfort).

Jackie Muir, BScPT, CAFCI
Health Services Manager at Legacies North Vancouver

If you are interested to learn more, or to book an appointment, contact Legacies North Vancouver location.

Jackie has 22 years of experience as a physiotherapist. She takes an active approach to treatment combining manual therapy with her passion for exercise to help clients achieve their goals. Jackie is certified in Clinical Pilates, a modified form of exercise developed by Physiotherapists to support the rehabilitation and prevention of muscular injuries. She is also a certified PINC and Steel Cancer Rehab Physiotherapist, providing comprehensive treatment and exercise plan with a goal of reducing and overcoming some if the side effects of cancer treatment.