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How Pilates Helped My Back Pain: Case Study

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 16 May 2012 | comments*Discuss
Pilates Back Pain Stomach Muscles

Like a lot of women, Elizabeth Salem suffered from extreme back pain during both her pregnancies, which started before her son was born and got progressively worse when she had her daughter.

“For a few weeks during each pregnancy my back would get really bad,” says Elizabeth, 43, who’s a writer from London.

“I couldn’t stand up straight on and off during the first pregnancy, and for the first three months of my second pregnancy I couldn’t stand up at all.”

A Difficult Birth

Elizabeth thought things would be better after her son Noah was born, but the birth didn’t turn out exactly as planned.

“My two stomach muscles from pregnancy were separated massively after the birth of Noah, who weighed almost 13 pounds,” she says.

“I’m 5’7“ tall and weigh only about 8 stone, so you can imagine he was a massive baby. I had a C-section but my stomach paid the consequences, which eventually had an impact on my back.”

Although the pain improved slightly after she had the children, who are now 10 and six, Elizabeth continued to suffer with her lower back in particular.

“It was hard to work as it was hard to sit at my desk,” Elizabeth recalls. “Sitting at a computer made it worse. Unless you have perfect posture, then being hunched over a computer only aggravates back pain, and makes it worse.”

Recommendation from a Friend

Elizabeth tried Pilates the first time when she was still pregnant and had back problems,on a friend's recommendation.

“A friend had tried Pilates and loved it, so I thought I would too. I thought that if my posture improved, then my stomach would improve as well,” Elizabeth says.

“My post-pregnancy muscles were weak and flabby, and I thought that Pilates would be the best way to get that whole core area back in shape.”

Originated by Joseph Pilates, this form of exercise concentrates on balancing the body and strengthening posture in particular. It emphasises the core muscles, or muscles in the abdominal area and back, which are vital to strength and fitness.

People who practise Pilates often take a class, although they can also be practised by individuals at home. Pilates machines or equipment have now become popular as well, which were developed by Joseph Pilates himself.

Principles of Pilates

But when Elizabeth got to her first Pilates class, she thought the whole idea was ridiculous. “The whole point of Pilates seemed to be to strengthen your core stomach muscles, while the whole point of pregnancy was to loosen then to make room for the baby,” she says.

“It did seem useful, however, to strengthen my back - when I was no longer pregnant - so after I had my daughter Rosie I decided to give Pilates a go again.”

This time, however, Elizabeth decided to download a Pilates DVD instead of attending a class. “For me, going to an hour-long exercise class a few times a week is pointless. But knowing the principles of Pilates and sticking to them is worthwhile,” she says.

“The DVD had a 20-minute routine where they walked you through all the exercises, which I found very useful as it made me more aware of my posture in particular.

“I started incorporating a lot of the exercises into my overall exercise routine, which I still do. I go running three days a week, and do Pilates stomach and leg exercises afterwards.

“I also started to use an amazing Pilates card set with flashcards, which gives you a whole load of exercises and positions you can do, which is great.”

Better Posture, Better Back

Elizabeth is now positive that the Pilates exercises have helped her back. “There are only a handful of exercises that are good to know which Pilates teaches you. I think Pilates is all about learning the principles and adapting them into your overall fitness regime," she says.

“If I could do it all over again, instead of taking Pilates I would have studied ballet as a child. People who studied ballet when they were a kid have good posture and fewer back problems.

“But raising kids is all about bending down, lifting and carrying things in awkward ways. And thanks to Pilates I never put my back out.”

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