Release Your Back With These 4 Pilates Exercises
If you are experiencing back pain you are not alone. Apparently 80% of us experience back pain at some point in our lives. Of course we experience it in many different ways and for different reasons.
The most common reasons for back pain are soft tissue tension, joint health, degenerative processes of the spine and psychosomatic causes. It is important to check with your GP if you have worsening or persistent back pain, so that the reason can be determined and more sinister causes can be ruled out.
Yet even when all checks and scans have been done and all more serious possibilities have been ruled out, back pain sufferers are often still left to their own devises to manage the pain.
Pilates can be a great way to manage and eliminate back pain. However you need to be careful to not just throw yourself into a big mixed ability Pilates class at your local gym. The style of Pilates offered there may not be appropriate for you. It is always best to consult a Pilates Practitioner on a 1-1 basis first, who can assess your back pain from a movement professionals perspective and determine what class or approach is best for you.
Sometimes all it takes are a few basic exercises to regularly do at home, to maintain spinal health and to release tension. You might find the following 4 exercises useful. Videos and descriptions are provided to help you perform the exercises with as much qualify as possible.
#1 Pelvic Clock
The Pelvic Clock is a basic exercise in Pilates. It focuses your attention onto the lower back and pelvic area and allows you to find more balanced alignment of spine and pelvis. Through the process of the subtle movements you also begin to mobilise the soft tissue in the lower back and pelvis. So if you are suffering with stiffness and aches and pains in this area the Pelvic Clock allows you to gradually introduce movement in the most save way.
Lie on your back with your knees bend and feet hip width on the floor. Imagine a clock face on your lower abdomen with 6 located on your pubic bone and 12 on your navel. 3 and 9 are located on the bony landmarks on either side of your pelvic bones (sometimes referred to as hip bones). You begin to roll the pelvis forwards and backwards between 6 and 12 in a small even movement. Then you can explore rolling the pelvis sideways between 3 and 9. Your legs should stay fairly still at the same time. Finally swirl your pelvis between all 4 numbers into a circular movement in both directions.
#2 Side to Side
In the same starting position as before, however with your arms out to the side at shoulder level begin to roll your knees a little to the right, then to the left. This exercise can be done in many different ways. In the above video you see a version in which the legs move individually as supposed to stuck together. This version allows for a little more movement in the hips as supposed to focusing solely on movement from the lower back. This is a little gentler on the back and as some back pain can be caused by issues in the hip, it is a good idea to allow for some hip mobilisation as well as back mobility through this exercise. Start with a small range of movement and increase the range gradually if it feels good.
In the same starting position as before, bring your heels a little closer to your hips. Begin to stand into your feet and notice how the pelvis gets lighter and wants to lift. Imagine you are a blanket or a loose rope that gets gradually pulled away from your head and over your knees in the direction of your toes. Reverse to come back down by allowing your ribs under your shoulders to drop down before the pelvis touches down. This should feel a little bit as though you are tractioning your own body away from your head in a gentle manner. This exercise has many benefits that contribute to back health. It mobilises and lengthens the spine and opens the front of the hip. Most of us struggle with tight hip flexors due to too much sitting. Tight hip flexors can pull the pelvis forward, which results in a tightened lower back. Therefore this exercise can help to counter back pain. Further more you are introducing some gluteus and hamstring strengthening, which can also help condition the back muscles without causing compression.
#4 Book Opening
This exercise starts in a side lying position. Make sure your head is comfortably supported and your back and shoulders are in good alignment. Your hips and knees should be flexed and on top of each other at about 90 degrees. You start with your top arm outstretched in front of you. Circle your arm along the floor towards your head. Continue the circle over head and behind you all the way around and back to the beginning. Allow your gaze to follow your hand and your upper body to roll backwards, so that your chest ends up facing the ceiling. Your top hip may also roll back slightly in the process. Repeat on the other side. You may find this exercise gives you a nice stretch around the chest and shoulder, however it also mobilises your neck, upper back and rib cage. So this is a great exercise if your back pain is in your mid or upper back. Also, sometimes we develop lower back pain, because the upper part of the back is stiff and the lower back has to compensate with too much movement. So this exercise will be valuable for upper as well as lower back pain. The shoulder mobilisation is a nice bonus!
Please note that while these exercises are very basic they still may not be suitable if your back pain is very acute or has underlying more serious causes. Therefore you should consult your GP first. Also please remember that non of these exercises should be painful. Try being as relaxed and easy going with them as possible and start with small movements.