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Why Pilates is Not a Cure All for Back Pain

19 August 2013  |  Admin

Market Harborough Chiropractor explains why pilates is not a cure all for back pain
Written By, On August 19, 2013
How pilates can make your bad back worse: It can help reduce pain and improve posture, but as one woman’s story shows, there are hidden dangers. Spinal problems are complex and require specialist examination before patients embark on a spinal rehabilitation program that may not be correct for their specific problem.

Here is an example to demonstrate.

Like thousands of women, Sophie decided to do Pilates to get back into shape after giving birth. While driven by the desire to lose her post-baby belly, Sophie, 38, was also keen on it for medical reasons.

She was born with scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, and her doctor had warned that the extra weight of the baby could put added strain on her fragile back and muscles. A maternity nurse told her that Pilates a series of stretching exercises to improve physical strength and flexibility was excellent for women post-birth.

The classes are particularly good for back problems because the exercises strengthen the muscles that support the spine. ‘Seven months after the birth I felt ready to start exercising,’ says Sophie

‘I told the instructor about my scoliosis and the pregnancy, and he nodded and told me to join a class. ‘I went once a week for three months as part of a group of 12 people, and everything was fine, but then overnight my left leg went numb. ‘I mentioned this, but the instructor didn’t seem concerned and just told me to take it easy. I didn’t think to question it.’ But within a few weeks the numbness worsened and Sophie had excruciating pain at the base of her spine. Concerned, she went to the doctor. ‘I was referred to a specialist and given an MRI scan.

The results were irrefutable — I’d rupture a disc. ‘The increased pressure and strain of the exercises had aggravated my weakened spine, causing the disc to rupture, so it was pressing on my nerve. ‘Worse still, the damage was so extensive they thought the only way round it was surgery to trim the disc.’

Pilates is considered to be helpful for improving back pain and posture. It’s recommended to those suffering from back pain because participants are taught how to target the core muscles.

These are the transversus abdominus (the muscle that runs between the ribs and the pelvis), the multifidus (next to the spine in the lower back) and the pelvic floor muscles.

It used to be the thought that they play a pivotal role in protecting the back, but this role has now being increasingly questioned and over stated by many practitioners.

Unfortunately, more and more people are suffering problems as a result of these exercises. The problem is how Pilates is being taught. ‘I’m seeing an increasing number of patients who have aggravated degenerate discs after attending pilates classes because they thought it would help with their back problems,’ says David Casey a qualified chiropractor specializing in spinal rehabilitation. A view that is taken by many orthopaedic and spinal surgeons who also have to carry out unnecessary surgery which could be avoided with correct tailored exercises.

While many surgeons and qualified chiropractors recommend exercises for back pain and after injury, if exercises are carried out incorrectly they can weaken the back and cause existing conditions to deteriorate. A specialist chiropractor is professionally qualified, undergoing a five years medically based degree program and would be able to diagnose these conditions more specifically and design a more appropriate program of exercise.

Pilates, practised by an estimated one million Britons, was devised 80 years ago by Joseph Pilates, a German sportsman, to improve muscle strength. We see this as the main problem says Dr Casey,” that using techniques developed in the sports field are not appropriate to spinal rehabiliation”. Spinal rehabilitation is the art of taking a diseased weaken spine and bringing up to a level to maintain the activities of daily living not up to an athletic standard.

Pilates is dominated by working on the deep abdominal muscles; one of the main exercises involves drawing in the tummy to the spine and lifting the pelvic floor. Drawing in the abdominal muscles has been shown to weaken the spine not strengthen it.

When exercise isn’t tailored to an individual or taught correctly according to the patient’s specific diagnosis problems occur.

‘Traditional Pilates incorporates exercises that can be challenging, often too challenging,particularly if you have an existing back problem. ‘Indeed, even if you carry them out correctly, they can put excess strain on the spine and surrounding muscles. ‘Classes of more than 12 people don’t help. There’s no way the teacher can keep a close eye on every person’s moves, and a student won’t know whether they are doing an exercise correctly, which can lead to problems.’

Unfortunately, this puts the 80 per cent of Britons who suffer from back pain at some time in their lives in a Catch-22 situation: their orthopaedic surgeons, doctors and physiotherapists may recommend Pilates, but not all classes on offer will be beneficial.

Chiropractors have extensive training, which means they have a real understanding of anatomy in particular, back conditions and the strengths and weaknesses you may have.’

‘I have managed to avoid an operation, but only with a combination of steroid injections to reduce the inflammation and hefty painkillers says Sophie. ‘But the operation could still be on the cards if the pain returns, which I want to avoid at all costs. Pilates may be good for back problems, but I know better than most that it depends on which class you attend.’

To find out more about back pain and spinal rehabilitation call to speak to or arrange an appointment with one of our qualified chiropractic specialists. They will advise what may or may not be appropriate for your condition.

Call Melton Mowbray Clinic: 01664 561199
Call Market Harborough Clinic: 01858 414841

The Chiropractic Clinic

Market Harborough & Melton Mowbray