How pilates solved my low back pain + the 8 pilates exercises your back needs right now
Updated: Oct 22, 2020
Ready my most popular blog post of all time.
Did you know I ended up in pilates because I suffered chronic low back pain for over 2 years when I was in my mid twenties? It’s true. I was 25 and couldn’t even bend over to tie my shoes.
I had over 30 physio sessions, took prescribed sleeping tablets, had 2 MRI scans and a set of injections in my lumbar facet joints and not one single thing made a difference to the pain I felt day in and day out. It was truly debilitating in every way. I spent hours in the dead of night reciting Philip Larkin poems, willing the day to come. When it did, I spent hours lying on the floor stretching. I had to trade my beloved heels for not so beloved flat shoes and had to alternate between standing and sitting when I was out, which I’m sure made me look like I had a bad case of ADHD. No position felt comfortable. I had to have a zillion adjustments made at work and used a wedge cushion for driving.
And then along came a newly graduated, fresh faced physio from Down Under who took one look at me and said, “you need to do pilates.” At that point in time, the only person I’d heard of who did pilates was Madonna and the only place to do it was in LA! However, if he had said get yourself and on a plane to Arizona and jump off the Grand Canyon to sort it, I would have done it! As luck would have it, I didn’t have to do that, nor did I have to go to LA to hang out with Madonna. Instead the gym at RBS Gogarburn, where I was working like a dog, was about to launch a run of pilates classes so I immediately signed up.
I remember every single thing about that lesson. There was a total of 5 exercises with the rest of the class being structured around learning completely alien things to me like spinal alignment, finding a neutral pelvis and how to make best friends with your ‘corset’ of support to support your back (corset = your deep abdominal muscles). I remember having to do a curl up and was shocked to find that I could barely lift my head off the mat, let alone my back! But in that 60 minutes something magical happened; for the first time in 2 years, I left that room with zero pain. How could that be? After everything I’d done to try and manage my back pain in 2 years, including a medical intervention, how could 60 minutes of 5 exercises melt it away? It left me feeling light and happy and I was hooked. The pain came back but the more I went to pilates the less and less it came back until eventually it didn’t come back at all!
That was way back in 2005. It’s a true story and, fifteen years on, is the reason I still do pilates everyday – be in 10 minutes or 60. I never want to feel that pain again – anyone who has suffered chronic low back pain will get my drift here. It is the pitts and effects everything in your life.
I felt stronger, calmer and more able to enjoy life with each and every class. I started to live my life in a different way and as time went on, I also started to notice things that were out of kilter with my new found way of living, particularly the fact that I had been spending faaaarrrr too long chained to a desk all day, working in a high performing team for a high performing company and busting a gut to keep up. It was stressful, fast paced and – dare I say it – cut throat at times. Recognise it? Yip, all of that contributed to my back issues too. In fact, within a year of conquering my back pain through pilates, I quit my high performing job and went to work for a smaller business that still had high expectations of delivery but without the competitive, internal politics of the big global corporation I was slogging away for. It was also handily located within the city centre which meant I could ditch the 1 hour commute to work each way and actually walk to work (and also meant I could fit in 2 pilates classes a week instead of 1).
Pilates really has been the only thing that has helped my back – it has been worth every penny of investment I have made on it. It is so easy to slip it in to your day – spending just 10 minutes on 4 or 5 exercises every day, or every other day, will leave you feeling stronger, calmer and better about everything; do if for long enough and you’ll start to see those little magical shifts in how you go about your every life stuff. I promise.
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It is incredibly difficult to truly 'damage' your back but like any living thing (yes your spine is a living, breathing thing!), if you don't look after it, it will stop working. There is lots of medical research to support the fact that you no longer have to hold an anatomical position and work the back mechanically; movement in all directions is best. Here are my 8 go to pilates exercises to help loosen off a stiff or sore low back – do all 8 or pick and choose a few. Aim for around 8 -10 reps of each 2 or 3 times a day if you can; they are truly magical for your back:
Pelvic Tuck and Tilts
Curl Ups + Oblique Curl Ups
Spine Stretch Forward
Standing Side Reach
Sore back? Feeling stressed? Looking for a way to exercise that fits neatly into your every day life in a way that will build strength, reduce stress and will 100% leave you feeling better than before you rolled your mat out? Then join the other 100+ people signed up to my newsletter for hints, tips and guides on how the magic of pilates can help you every day too.