*This article is inspired by ‘How Simple Exercises May Save Your Lower Back’ (Rachel Fairbank, The New York Times, 2022).
Anyone, young or old, can, and probably will develop back pain at some point in their lives. This, dare I say, pervasive illness, is plaguing anyone with a back. So what can we do about it?
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
To understand how to help prevent it, it is important to understand what causes it.
Acute lower back pain is most commonly caused by the straining of a muscle that is weak or stiff. For example, if you are sitting at a desk for long periods of time, over time the muscles used to stabilise your spine, may weaken. This can be to the likes of not using your favourite pen. After a long time, the ink will eventually dry up. You may need to press harder, or it may not really work at all. Therefore, when you use it, it will not work effectively. In the body, this same concept can be applied to our muscles, only it would look like pain or even injury.
Therefore, the best line of action is to use your muscles!
A good line of prevention and treatment may involve a consistent mixture of cardio, strength, and Pilates that focuses on the core muscles.
While of course, pilates is no foolproof medicine, it is a complex and effective mode of exercise that targets three main components essential to breaking our bad back cycle: strengthening the core, promoting mind-muscle connection, and increasing overall muscle condition.
What Does the Core Have To Do With My Back?
The core is a collective term for the muscles in our trunk, and has the important role of stabilising and controlling the spine and pelvis.
Think of the core as our own personal back brace. It wraps around us like a corset and helps us stabilise the spine. Our body is as strong as our core. If the core is weak and ill-equipped for our daily tasks, it can manifest as lower back pain, poor posture, restlessness, and tightness of muscles.
So, a strong core is key to preventing and treating back pain.
The core is such a large and highly specialise focused group of muscle, with large obvious muscles (e.g., abdominals, or ‘abs’ that we associate with the glorified six-pack). However, the core also consists of a complex network of intricate deep muscles, such as the transverse abdominis; the deepest core muscle in our body that wraps around our entire trunk like a corset. (For more information about our core, please see our article ‘Your Core: More Than Just a Sexy Six Pack‘)
While any exercise more or less activate our entire core, few exercises consider to intentionally strengthen the deep core muscles.
How does Pilates Strengthen the Core?
This is where Pilates comes into play. Pilates involves slow and controlled intricate exercise movements that work to increase flexibility, mind-muscle connection, and muscular growth of even the tiniest of our core muscles.
For example, the ‘plank’ activates the entire core, down to the deepest of muscles. Pilates aims to efficiently combine slow controlled, and intentional movements rather than large uncontrolled movements. The effect – increased muscle connection, and helping us activate every single muscle in our core.
A strong core, means that the spine can be stabilised, and that the muscles will be equipped to move freely without back pain or strain. Pilates is more than growing muscle mass, following a strong philosophy over quality controlled movements and muscle activation. Effectively addressing our entire core, is just one approach to ensuring our backs remain pain free and healthy.
How do I start?
Anything from 5 to 10 minutes a day of core activation is enough to help your body strengthen its spine and get your back feeling better than ever. Good core exercises you can try are: plank, dead-bugs, V-ups, bird dog, and leg raises. (Not sure what they are? Ask us!)
Additionally, you may be wondering, ‘how do I know if I am targeting the right muscles?’ The best thing to do try is to intentionally tell yourself that you want to activate your core. Sometimes, particularly if you are more new to Pilates, it may feel like we are copying the movements, but feeling nothing. Try touching the muscle you want to activate to feel it tense up.
At Leap, our instructors are highly qualified to give you the correct technique, and exercise programs to further help strengthen your core, and prevent back pain! Reach out today.
Find out how exercise and Pilates helped some of our members with their lower back pain and injuries –
As someone who’s dedicated to achieving in her work and looking after her family, for years Mei neglected herself. Until one momentous day when her back gave out and she was paralysed in bed with debilitating pain. That was the wake-up call for Mei.
Watch her video to know more.
My name is Sydney, and I’m 63. I started private Pilates sessions at Leap after my spine fusion surgery in 2019. Pilates has built my strength and mobility beyond what I’d imagined.
Before my surgery, I was suffering from nerve compression from a disc bulge in my lower back resulting in sciatica pain for over 2 years.
It affected my quality of life severely; I stopped going out because I couldn’t walk further than 1km, or lift light shopping bags. Cleaning and even showering became a struggle because my back hurt constantly, and the pain travelled all the way down my leg. I lived with daily pain, and no pain medication worked.
After my surgery, my surgeon suggested for me to start private Pilates sessions to help rebuild my strength and mobility.
I was dubious at first because I’d never been an active person. Exercise was walking for me. And I didn’t know anything about Pilates – what benefit could I get from it? I could do those exercises at home, from my bed, watching a free video online!
But I thought I’d try a few sessions and see.
Losing my mobility was terrifying for me; I saw how my mother had needed all-time care and I didn’t want that to happen to me. I also wanted to be a grandmother who can play with her grand-children, so I needed to be strong and fit for that.
When I came to Leap, I had a list of movements I couldn’t do e.g. twisting, bending forward or backward. I had no strength in my legs.
My instructor was very patient with me, and very knowledgeable. I thought my exercise would be repetitive and boring because of how limited my movement was, but my instructor gave me different exercises week after week.
I gradually started to enjoy my training. And during the week, I found myself practicing the harder exercises I couldn’t do very well in class. I even did online training via Zoom during lockdown so I could maintain my progress.
Now 18 months on, my back pain hasn’t come back. I feel very strong, which gives me a lot of confidence. The other day, my daughter took a photo of me climbing up the kitchen bench to replace a window panel. That thing would’ve weighed 7-8 kilos and I was able to do it all on my own! It’s just incredible!
I can now see how much I’ve gained from Pilates at Leap. And I also learned that it isn’t right to do core exercises from the bed! So if you’re doing it right now, please stop because it’ll hurt your back even more. Why not come to Leap instead?