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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Core Exercises to Relieve/Prevent Back Pain by Dr. David Kulla

Back pain is a problem for many people, and whether it is a chronic condition or an intense flare-up of an occasional problem, finding a remedy that relieves it and prevents it can sometimes be a challenge. Instead of treating yourself with pain medications that will only wear off, requiring you to medicate again, take advantage of some exercises that might help you with your back pain. In addition to making you feel better, physical activity and basic exercises can even prevent pain from returning. If the pain is intense or does not go away, make sure you consult your doctor or a chiropractor.

While the common suggestion is often to “rest” when you are experiencing back pain, a little activity might actually do more for your back than bed rest. If you find a comfortable position while resting, go ahead and stay there for a while. However, get yourself up and moving as soon as possible. You want to train your back to function properly again, and the best way to do that is to move. Do something simple, like walking. You want to avoid any strenuous activities or exercises that might have triggered the pain in the first place.

Think about your posture too. Walk with your back straight, your shoulders back and your head up. This will keep your back aligned and not hunched. The nerves around your spinal column can easily get pinched or compressed if you do not have good posture, creating additional pain on top of what you are already experiencing.

Do strengthening exercises that will build muscles in your back, hips, stomach and shoulders. Stretching out these muscle groups may relieve your back pain. As you continue to exercise these areas and workout any strains or areas of tension, you will be less likely to feel pain in those areas in the future. When they are more flexible and stronger, you’ll feel better. Regular exercise in these areas will also help muscles to repair themselves more quickly. If you do injure yourself, your body will be able to recover faster and more thoroughly if you are doing regular exercises to prevent and treat back pain.

Cardiovascular exercise is also helpful in preventing back pain. Working out your heart muscle will keep you more energetic, providing endurance and promoting a strong, healthy body. Again, you’ll be able to speed up your recovery time if you are doing some sort of aerobic or cardiovascular activity on a regular basis.

As you exercise to treat and reduce back pain, focus on your legs, back, shoulders and stomach. Building a strong core will protect your back against injuries and help it to recover faster. As long as you are not doing anything too strenuous, getting regular physical activity will help your back pain a lot more than lying in bed and popping pain pills. You might also have problems with your alignment, so seek treatment from a chiropractor if you are not able to get rid of your back pain in a reasonable amount of time.

This post was written for Pilates for the People by Dr. David Kulla. Dr. Kulla is a licensed NYC Chiropractor and a nutritionist as well as owner of Synergy Wellness in Manhattan.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Will Pilates Help My Back Pain? by Lori Thompson

The Pilates Method was originally developed as a comprehensive rehabilitation program for a wide range of ailments and injuries, with specific exercises designed for every part of the body's musculoskeletal system. So, the simple answer is: yes. In fact, several of the original group of Pilates instructors had suffered from chronic back pain or injury themselves before being successfully treated by Joseph Pilates.  

In most cases, Pilates will help to alleviate back pain and more importantly, it will help to prevent pain and injury from occurring in the first place.

It's important to note that there are two methods of practicing Pilates: Mat and Apparatus. Mat Pilates is comprised of a series of core focused exercises done on a mat, usually in a group setting. Apparatus Pilates is a system of exercises done on various pieces of equipment - the most widely used being the Reformer. While there are some mat exercises that may be beneficial for back pain, the support provided by the Reformer would be a safer approach.

One of the main goals of Pilates is to strengthen the intrinsic musculature - or deep muscles. the intrinsic muscles are the muscles that are closest to the bone, and are therefore key in supporting the structure of the spine. When these muscles are weak there is more pressure and stress on the spine.

Typically we've been taught to train our extrinsic - or superficial - muscles when we exercise. Generally this may seem like a more intuitive approach because it's easier to feel these muscles as they are larger and easier to see, (i.e., the historically coveted six pack). This isn't to say that you can't achieve a nice looking set of abs from doing Pilates. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The difference is how you get there.

Pilates is about working the muscles from the inside out, learning how to engage these deep, core, supportive muscles in order to properly support the larger muscles. This can't happen in reverse order! Once the larger, extrinsic muscles take control, the core intrinsic muscles will not engage; it's like trying to install a foundation after the walls and roof are already up.

If you go to the gym and attempt heavy lifting without first having spent time learning proper awareness and engagement of your intrinsic core muscles, your body will immediately recruit the larger, stronger outside muscle groups.

This contributes to any muscular imbalances already in place, while missing the connection with the deep muscles that support the spine in the process. The result of this is often poor form from which, with repetition, is likely to result in some type of muscle, disc or joint injury.

Alternatively if you have strong and healthy intrinsic muscle fibre, you can still do squats at the gym while having the precision form to move and stabilize your body so that you can lift heavy loads with far less risk of injury.

It takes time, patience and practice to learn to engage deep musculature. Superficial muscles give immediate and recognizable feedback - such as the 'burn factor' - which feeds into the 'no pain no gain' philosophy inherent in old-school ways of training.  

Intrinsic muscles, on the other hand, don't offer the same tangible feedback. Intrinsic muscles feel different. This is where the mind/body factor comes into practice. Pilates encourages the conscious practice of muscle engagement. Joseph Pilates coined this term Contrology because he believed his method uses the mind to control the muscles.

In a culture where many of us spend a large part of our day sitting, it's no wonder that we've lost some consciousness around body awareness and as a result more and more people are experiencing back pain. Pilates will help you to develop a more conscious awareness of how you are in motion and in stillness.

Simply put, Pilates helps develop core strength, core strength helps prevent back pain. When considering whether or not Pilates is a fit for you, be sure to seek out a qualified and experienced practitioner.

Lori Thomson offers private and semi-private Pilates instruction, in a focused, supportive atmosphere, with special attention given to injuries and rehabilitation. Call for openings: 604.209.1042 or email

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