One of the most common complaints in doctor’s offices across the country is lower back pain. Whether it is a result of a strained muscle from improper use of a snow shovel during the winter months, or a sports injury in the summer months, lower back pain can be completely disabling from people who suffer from it. Many doctors will prescribe muscle relaxers and pain relievers in order to help patients rest and recover with as little discomfort as possible. However, a long term solution can often be found in proper rehabilitation of the muscles in the lower back. Physical therapists will often recommend stretching and strength training to help keep these lower back muscles from being strained in the first place. Among these exercises more commonly used in physical therapy is Pilates.
The Anatomy Of Lower Back Pain
Before we can dissect how and why rehab Pilates is beneficial, it helps to understand how and why lower back pain occurs. In most cases, lower back pain is associated with muscle strains. Whether it is repetitive movement (such as regular lifting or bending), which is putting strain on the muscles or a sudden jerk (such as a sporadic twist or jerk to keep oneself from falling on a patch of ice), lower back pain is a relatively common occurrence. The lower back is characterized as the area between the top of the buttocks and the bottom of the ribs. This area is comprised of a variety of muscles as well as complex vertebrae and ligaments. This area in the back is part of the core muscles in our bodies, which is also known as the powerhouse.
For about 80% of the adult population, lower back pain only happens occasionally. For these patients, occasional use of muscle relaxants and prescription pain relievers will provide adequate relief in managing lower back pain. However, for the few patients who suffer from chronic lower back pain, alternative treatments are essential in maintaining a good quality of life free of pain. While all patients can benefit from some form of Pilates rehab, it is the patients who suffer from chronic lower back pain who will receive the greatest benefit from Pilates physical therapy.
Why Do Physical Therapists Recommend Pilates For Lower Back Pain?
Pilates works in a way that many other standard and commonly practiced therapies fail to work. Where muscle relaxers will help muscles that are in spasm to relax and painkillers will mask the pain of a lower back injury, Pilates actually works by stretching and strengthening the muscles in the lower back. These Pilates exercises focus on core strength, which provides a balance between strengthening the lower back with also strengthening their front counterparts–the abdominal muscles. All the while these exercise work together to help generate a mind and body connection, as well as provide a vast improvement in balance and coordination. The results are patients who are more in tune with the way their bodies move, feel, and function, as well as a reduction in the frequency and severity of lower back pain.
Pilates is excellent for patients suffering from lower back pain as it also does not require very much equipment. Most of the exercises can be performed with a simple mat and rely simply on your own body’s weight, resistance, and muscles to do the work of the exercises. This makes them easy to do both in the physical therapist’s office as well as at home on your own. Patients are not limited by bulky or expensive equipment, and once properly instructed are able to take their knowledge to practice pilates at home.
Lower back pain can completely sideline a person. It can make it absolutely impossible to get comfortable. Sitting, standing, and even lying down can all be uncomfortable when you are suffering from lower back pain. In many cases, the pain will often require little more than a heating pad and a few over the counter anti-inflammatory medications to help the patient recover. In more severe cases of sprains, strains, and spasm, muscle relaxers are the go-to treatment, combined with prescription pain relievers in order to achieve maximum comfort while the affected muscles heal. In cases of chronic lower back pain, patients may find that none of these treatments are effective for long-term treatment.
In these cases, Pilates can be an excellent alternative to traditional remedies for lower back pain. Pilates works by strengthening the muscles in the core where the lower back is located, and helps improve balance and coordination while establishing a mind and body connection. These exercises have proven time and time again to help patients regain strength and mobility without having to rely on powerful drugs to alleviate the pain. Patients who use Pilates as a form of physical therapy for lower back pain find the frequency and the severity of their lower back pain is greatly reduced, and they can once again lead happy and healthy lives.
This article was written by Jonathan Gordon, PT who is the co-owner of Rehabilitation Professionals Inc. a physical therapy clinic in St. Louis MO. To find out more about RPI or their Rehab Pilates program click here.