Lower back pain is a huge problem worldwide, and is the single biggest cause for people taking time off work each year, causing businesses around the world billions of pounds. For physiotherapists, patient’s with pain in their lower backs should be our bread and butter, but it’s also a bit of a minefield.
There are so many different things that could cause back pain, from poor posture, tight and weak muscles, stiff and unstable joints, and various psychological factors play a big part too. It’s difficult to be able to say with any degree of certainty what specifically is causing an individual’s back pain, and nine times out of ten, it will be a combination of the factors just mentioned.
So, if only us physios had access to a form of treatment that could help target the many physical and mental complications that can cause bad backs. Something that once taught, our patient’s would be able to do themselves rather having to pay week after week for massages and other hands on treatment.
Hopefully, if you’ve read any of our other posts, you’ll see where I’m going with this, and that thankfully, there is. It’s a little something called Pilates, and in this post I’m going to highlight the best Pilates exercises for back pain.
Before we begin, please don’t dive head first into doing any of these exercises unless they’ve been recommended to you by a trained professional, after they’ve carried out a full and thorough assessment to rule out any potential scary causes of lower back pain.
The Best Exercises for Lower Back Pain
If you suffer from lower back pain, the hundreds exercise is a great exercise for starting off your rehabilitation. It aims to awaken your core muscles in your stomach, the ones that sit underneath your six- pack abdominal muscles. It’s these muscles that have been shown through scientific research to be vital for stabilising the joints of your lower back, and it’s also been found that they very commonly switch off through everyday life, potentially leading to lower back pain.
- Single Leg Stretch
We’ve already discussed the benefits of this exercise for improving stability, and for that very reason it’s a great exercise to help alleviate and prevent lower back pain, working in a similar way to hundreds.
- Double Leg Stretch
Similar in name and in nature to the one leg stretch, the double leg stretch brings in the upper limbs, to help make the exercise and it’s benefits more functional and more transferable to everyday life.
Once again this lower back pain relieving exercise is great for activating the core muscles and getting them to work in the background of all of your daily activities and movements. This exercise is particularly useful for walkers or runners with low back pain, as it trains the core muscles to stabilise the joints of your lower back during reciprocal leg movements- just like in walking and running. This helps the benefits of this exercise transfer over to your daily life.
- Spine Twist
In previous posts we’ve talked about how the spine twist exercises can help improve your flexibility and your posture, but it’s also a great choice of exercise for people with lower back pain. As mentioned at the start of this post, lower back pain can be brought on by stiff joints and poor posture, and this is a great exercise for combating these common causes.
The Psychological Benefits
If you were to take x- rays and MRI scans of every person in the world suffering from back pain, and then compared that with x-rays and MRI scans of people not suffering from lower back pain, I think you’d find the results to be very interesting indeed.
Surely, you’d think, that people with lower back pain might show up with signs of arthritis affecting their lower back joints on an x-ray, versus healthy looking ones in symptom free individuals. Or that muscles and ligaments might appear to be damaged on an MRI scan, versus undamaged tissue in healthy individuals. You would think so, but you’d be wrong to think that.
You see, there’s a lot of disparity between scan results and symptoms reported by patients, and vice versa. There would be people who’s backs look riddled by arthritis and torn soft tissue, who would be going about their daily lives without a care in the world. At the other end of the spectrum there would be people who’s backs seem perfectly healthy on all manner of investigations and scans, but who then suffer from excruciating pain when trying to go about their daily lives.
The reason for these seemingly anonymous results, is the link between the health of the mind and the health of the body, a link which Joseph Pilates was one of the first people to recognise, understand, and specifically target to aid various ailments.
Again, there has been a wealth of research in this area, with results reporting that an individual’s life circumstances and beliefs have a huge impact on the health of their body. Upbringing, education levels, socioeconomic class status and general environmental and social background all have a massive influence on the way we see and feel pain in our bodies.
Pain is subjective. As physio’s, we can look at a patient and clearly see that one arm may be able to move less than the other one. But what we can’t do, is look at someone and be able to tell if something is sore or not. Pain is a unique experience for every individual, and the intensity, severity, duration and even the location of someone’s pain is all influenced by that individual’s attitudes and beliefs.
It might seem obvious that well educated and better off people might report less severe pain that their counterparts, but to say that earning more money and getting a degree in rocket science relieves pain would be dismissive. What the research and the science tells us, is that people who better understand their bodies, how to move and control them, and who are generally happier, do generally report less severe and intense pain. Pilates then, with it’s emphasis on targeting and controlling specific movements, is a great way of achieving the above. As with all forms of exercise, it’s also a great way of triggering the release of endorphins in your brain- the chemicals that make us feel happy, and therefore feel less pain.