Back Pain and Posture

Pilates for Back Pain

How many times have you been told to sit up straight and keep your shoulders down. Probably quite a few, or even if you haven’t, maybe in your head, you know that’s what you should be doing as you rub your neck for the umpteenth time because it’s feeling sore after staring at a computer screen for the last 6 hours.

As a Pilates Instructor, I’m always telling my clients to follow these instructions.  Over the last 10 years, our way of working has been changing and this has sped up significantly in the last 5 months due to a worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. As we all went into lockdown, we were told to work from home if we could, so people did what they were told and worked from home.  Often on a laptop at the kitchen table, hunched over a screen, or in a makeshift study. For hours and hours, people have been staring at computer screens with little or no breaks.

What is this doing to our posture? Well we are creating a huge amount of problems for ourselves by placing extra strain on muscles which are already tight and overused. We don’t usually think about our posture until something hurts or goes ping.

Sitting for long periods of time has also been linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We must keep moving, our bodies don’t like to be sat or stood for long periods of time.

Having good posture is essential for a healthy lifestyle. It can be difficult to do this by yourself, which is why Pilates is such a good form of exercise to help with this ever increasing problem.

To improve your posture, you must strengthen the deep core muscles, sometimes known as the “powerhouse”, (the abdominals, back muscles and pelvic floor), as this then allows your shoulders to relax, your neck and head to move more easily and this will then alleviate stress and strain on your hips and back muscles, which can cause back pain.

By following a Pilates exercise regime, you can help increase your range of movement in your joints and keep both your joints and muscles supple and strong.

Having been a Pilates Instructor for over 10 years, I have seen lots of different postures and more and more clients now have what we call a kyphotic posture, which is a fancy way to say rounded shoulders. As we spend more and more of our times, hunched over a desk, iPad or phone, this posture is common place in today’s society.

Pilates can help with all of these issues by strengthening the muscles that have become neglected and underused.  In fact, whenever I meet a client for the first time, I always tell them they will have muscles they use, muscles they underuse and muscles they abuse.

A good example of an underused muscle is your gluteal (your bottom).  Due to our sedentary lifestyles, we spend most of our time sitting, which means our gluteal spend a lot of time being lazy and underused. Then we decide to go for a walk. One of the main muscles needed for walking are our glutes. Well surprise surprise they won’t have a lot of strength, so are likely to give up easily and then the body recruits other muscles to work to allow the body to continue with the job in hand.  Hello, back muscles and hip flexors. They are then the abused and overused muscles, suddenly your back starts hurting, feet, shoulders and all because your glutes aren’t strong enough for the job in hand.

The glute muscles are such an important muscle in our body. Ironically it is the largest muscle in the body, but often the weakest. I always make sure in my Pilates classes, that there is a huge focus on strengthing the gluteal muscles, because without strong gluteal muscles our body can’t function properly and amongst other things our posture suffers.

Once my clients start to do Pilates, they quickly become more aware of their posture, not only in class, but in their everyday lives and this is where it really makes a difference.  It’s the work my clients put in on a daily basis that allows their bodies to get stronger and improve their posture.

You might not know this, but our head weighs 12 lbs when a person is standing in neutral alignment, i.e. standing up straight with all the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments where they should be.  If someone sits at their desk all day, peering at a computer screen, the load can increase to 42 lbs. Think of that extra weight through your neck, spine and lower back

This then creates a chain reaction through the body and we then up with possible neck pain, shoulder pain and back pain. By doing Pilates regularly we can counteract this by strengthing the muscles that are weak and stretching the muscles that are tight.

I always recommend my clients try to do Pilates on a daily basis, this is often a challenge with our busy lifestyles, but even 10 minutes a day can make all the difference. I provide videos for my clients so they can keep up their practice and I’ve also found that with my clients doing my virtual classes, it has really made a difference as they are able to come online and do as many classes as they like and I can really see the difference in my clients who have been doing regular online classes.  Their posture has improved, they are able to do more challenging exercises and it is so rewarding to see their improvement.

It can take time to change your posture, particularly if you have spent years hunched over a desk, but you can help yourself by taking regular breaks from your desk. This is more challenging when you work from home as your mind-set is possibly different, but it’s so important to keep moving.

Also look at your desk ergonomics.  In the office, you might have your computer at the right height and have a proper chair, but at home it could be a different story if as I was saying you are sat on a dining room chair, peering at a laptop all day. Your desk set up is so important and then finally participating in a regular Pilates regime.

If you would like to join one of my classes and find out more about how Pilates can improve back pain and posture, please get in touch.

Seeing the changes in my client’s posture makes my job so worthwhile and knowing that a client can now do things they couldn’t do before is so inspirational.  An example of this is one of my clients who is in their 70’s.  She wanted to be able to still do up her shoe laces and put her socks on, not only can she do this, but she can also hold a plank for 30 seconds.  If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is!!