Fitness Handout: Have you experienced back pain at one time or another? Have you been told to strengthen your abdominal muscles to fix a back problem? While traditional crunches strengthen the outer layers of the abdominal musculature, they bypass the deep support structures of your back. This can place the lumbar spine in too much flexion and may even worsen your back pain, depending on what your original physical problem was. By training the deep stabilizers of the lumbar spine, pain can be alleviated and you’ll be able to return to everyday activities sooner.

Pilates can help; its major focus is to strengthen the deep stabilizers of the spine and is beneficial if you are recovering from low-back injuries or experiencing low-back pain. Moira Merrithew, co-founder of STOTT PILATES® and its executive director of education, explains why Pilates is effective.

How Pilates Can Help

Pilates, created by Joseph Pilates, is a gentle, restorative exercise regime that suits most people in the process of recovering from injury and rebuilding their bodies. The foundational approach focuses on core strength, precision and control of movement. Combined with current exercise science, this approach is a recipe for success, for a number of reasons.

Pilates Develops Body Awareness. You need this awareness in order to recruit and strengthen the deep stabilizing muscles. You may be unaware of whether you are using your deep stabilizers or not, and this can leave you vulnerable to pain. A qualified Pilates instructor can help you learn how to effectively use your stabilizers.

Pilates Promotes Effective Breathing Patterns. Effective breathing patterns alleviate stress, which can be a major source of back pain. Conscious breathing provides inner focus, allowing you to become more aware of your body and enable recruitment of deep stabilizing muscles.

Pilates Builds Core Strength. You learn to engage the deep pelvic floor, which in turn works with the transversus abdominis and affects the positioning of other structures in the lumbopelvic region, providing support for the lower back.

This handout is a service of IDEA, the leading international membership association in the health and fitness industry, www.ideafit.com.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 7, Number 1 January 2010

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