My back hurts…. what shall I do?

Many people come to us for help with their back pains and find that Pilates really helps. The act of strengthening their core, working on their posture, learning about neutral pelvis and stretching does wonders. 

So here is the question. “My back hurts should I come to class this week?”

Pilates with Priya: My back hurts...

It’s a tough one.  Sometimes the answer will be to rest it, sometime you will be better mobilising it in a safe environment. Here are my thoughts:

Why does it hurt? What led to it hurting in the first place? Knowing that can be very helpful to firstly preventing it happening again, helping us work out how to help you strengthen it and it will give us an idea what has happened. If you were bending down to pick up something and it twinged, then we need to work on your technique of picking things up, include some squats and core work in your repertoire.

Is this a new issue or a recurrent one. Your previous history is a great indicator of whether you should rest or keep mobile. For example if you have had disc issues in the past and the pain feels similar then you don’t want to be coming to class.

How much does it hurt? If it is a more of a dull back ache then you should probably come and let the teacher know so they can give you exercises to help. If it is a throbbing pain that you are needing painkillers for then you should be going to the GP and resting.

When you are in a class our advice is always – If it hurts then tell the teacher and stop. Pilates should not cause proper, full on pain. Yes your core will ache, your back may feel stretched, your shoulder blades may pinch…. but it is not a “No pain, no gain” type of exercise.

We are always here to give extra tips or to chat through things. For more specific exercises you can use at home  remember you can always use our DVD or book a one to one.




Lift without lower back pain

Lower back pain, it’s the most common issue I see on our Pilates medical forms. Heavy lifting without engaging your core is often a cause of it. It’s common sense that if you lift badly or lift too heavy a weight it will hurt your back… but it is all too easy to do, especially when it is a child! For more on lifting babies see my video.

Think of the core as being the central point from which the power comes from or like a fulcrum that you pivot from. Every seen someone lift something far too heavy? You can see the force going into their back, not a good thing as it can damage the discs in the back. When I was pregnant and post birth I could instantly feel the effects when lifting my toddler, my core was far weaker and I couldn’t support my lower back.

Lifting safely involves engaging the core, bending the knees and thinking about your alignment. Here are my top tips:



  1. Keep the load close to your waist – easy to do when it’s cuddling a child, less so if it is a tantruming one 😉
  2. Get a good grip.
  3. Engage your core.
  4. Maintain a stable base with your feet hip width apart.
  5. Bend the knees and hips NOT the back. Keep a neutral spine.
  6. Know your lifting limits, we aren’t all training for Ironman.
  7. Think about using your legs rather than your back to lift.
  8. Lower down safely, bending your knees.
Pilates with Priya: Pilates helps Waterskiing

Pilates IS for Men, Olympics, Diving and WaterSkiing.

Why do people do Pilates with me? It can be for all kinds of reasons, but one of the most common is back ache or being told to by an osteopath/chiropracter/physiotherapist. I find the men tend to creep into classes looking slightly embarassed about it, but after a few weeks realise it’s actually quite hard work and really helps.

What I then love about Pilates is how it gives unexpected results by helping people in other areas too… like in this story below. The man in question came due to back pain but is finding it helps his waterskiing. Which it should 🙂 Yay!

Did you know the GB 2012 Olympic Diving team have a Pilates instructor? True Fact, I met someone who worked with them on the team who was telling me all about it.

Here’s a little testimonial from a man who does Pilates with me, I think it’s a pretty good advert for Pilates 🙂


Pilates with Priya: Pilates helps Waterskiing
Pilates with Priya: Pilates helps Waterskiing


“A little over a year ago I was seeing an osteopath because of back ache that had been troubling me for several months.  One of the first things that he said to me was that I would really benefit from doing pilates.  Very soon after I started classes with Priya.  Since starting pilates I can honestly say that I have not suffered any significant back pain at all.”


I am a qualified waterski coach and I slalom ski three or four times a week in the summer.  This is an extremely demanding sport, which involves high stresses and strains on the body as one is pulled from around 34mph to 60mph and back to 34mph in just over 2 seconds. This requires a great deal of core stability and I have to say that pilates has been the perfect compliment for it.  I regularly use pilates exercises for warming up and warming down.  I would say, in fact, that pilates would be a very helpful aid in training for almost any sport.


I only took up pilates in an attempt to address a long standing problem but to be quite honest, as well as really significant increase in my flexibility, and core strength, I have been very surprised about the impact that pilates has had on my performance, fitness and recovery from injury and I would, and in fact do, recommend it to anyone who will listen! “





Sometimes I’m a little bit clever…. the Multifidus and Me.

I’ve got a great friend who is a GP who comes to my Pilates classes and we often discuss the muscles being used in an exercise. Last week we were doing just this and I mentioned the Multifidus to which her response was “The what?” She was convinced I was making it up so this week pulled my muscle atlas off the shelf and asked me to show her….which I did 🙂

So this post is for her…

The Multifidus:

The multifidus muscles help to take pressure off the vertebral discs so that our body weight can be well distributed along the spine. These muscles are recruited during many actions in our daily living, which includes bending backward and sideways.

It works it’s way up the spine, attaching from one vertbrae to another, providing support for the spine and aiding our posture. If I was clever enough I’d draw you a picture….but I’m not, so instead try googling it!

Studies have shown that the multifidus muscles get activated before any action is carried out so to protect our spine from injury. Take for example when you are about to carry an item or before moving your arm, the mutifidus muscles will start contracting prior to the actual movement of the body and the arm so as to prepare the spine for the movement and prevent it from getting hurt.

Guess what…Pilates can help strengthen this muscle. Some of the exercises we do lying on our tummies definitely will strengthen the Multifidus muscles, meaning a stronger back and less back pain!

Amazing improvements in people with Pilates.

Here’s some feedback from one of my Pilates ladies…. Pilates has been pretty amazing for her, not only has her pain reduced and her mobility improved but she has lost toned up and her pelvic floor muscles have strengthened.

“With regards my back, I have been suffering with problems since July 2003.  I initially hurt it bending over to lift up a laptop at work, and on other occasions, just simply getting up from a sofa, sneezing, getting washing out of the washing machine or just turning have been enough to start an episode.  In the past, I have also suffered with a trapped nerve, leading to sciatica down my left leg and have often found myself laid up for a week, unable to go to work as the pain was so intense. The chiropractor diagnosed it as sacroiliac joint injury and I have attended whenever problems have flared up ever since 2003.

The most recent episode was last February, when I hurt my back loading A3 photocopier paper into the lowest drawer on the machine.  I was unable to move without assistance, was taken home and had to have 3 days off work on painkillers.  After this, I was seeing the chiropractor every week fortnightly, the chiropractor felt that there was a need for further action.  She suggested I start Pilates classes and that if this didn’t help after a few weeks, she would book me in for an x-ray to see if there was any obvious damage to my lower spine. At this point, although I was not experiencing acute pain, I had low-level pain on a daily basis, coupled with regular painful muscle spasms in my back which seemed to occur for no reason and was unable to perform routine tasks, such as dressing, unaided.

I then started Pilates with Priya.  Within two weeks, I was noticing an effect and was able to bend / lift my legs more easily.  I am now able to dress myself and can (with care) do tasks such as loading and unloading the washing machine / dishwasher.  I am no longer seeing the Chiropractor at all. I have also noticed a big improvement in my pelvic floor muscles and no longer have ’embarrassments’ when I cough or sneeze!  My husband has commented on the reduction in size of my stomach and I have begun to notice a line of muscle running down my abdomen that I have never seen before!”

Pilates helps Back Pain

As my Pilates classes have grown and my networking has increases I’ve had more and more people being referred by Chiropractors or Physio’s. A lot of these people are coming because of back pain. What’s so exciting is to then hear and see the improvements in people after just a few sessions.  So what is it about Pilates that works so well for back pain relief?

Pilates addresses the underlying structural imbalances in the body that lead to back pain. Issues like lack of core support, pelvic instability, muscular imbalances, poor posture, and lack of body awareness all affect back health.

Pilates Helps Correct Posture

In Pilates, we pay a lot of attention to how our body parts are lined up in relation to each other, which is our alignment.  When alignment is off, uneven stresses on the skeleton, especially the spine, are the result. Pilates exercises, done with attention to alignment, allow movement to flow through the body in a natural way.

For example, one of the most common postural imbalances that people have is the tendency to either tuck or tilt the pelvis. Both positions create weaknesses on one side of the body and overly tight areas on the other. The spine can’t form its natural curve and you get aches and pains all up the spine and neck.  Doing Pilates helps you focus on holding a “neutral spine” which means the proper placement of the spine and pelvis. Strengthening your core creates the inner strength to support the natural curves of the spine.

Pilates Develops Core Strength

Having core strength means that all of the muscles of the trunk of your body are strong, flexible, and working together to support and stabilize the spine. This goes deeper than the big surface muscles, it’s not about building  “6 pack” I’m afraid! The core muscles include the muscles that are below the surface musculature.  Some of these less obvious but very important core muscles are the muscles of the pelvic floor;  and the psoas, which play a huge role in keeping us upright and in hip bending; which are small muscles that weave along the spine; and the transverse and oblique abdominal muscles.  All of these muscles play crucial roles in the support and stability of the spine.

Pilates Promotes Flexibility

A healthy spine can curve forward and backward, twist, and move side to side, and do so in a way that reveals all the subtle articulations that our many vertebrae allow us to have. Pilates exercises are easy to modify so that we can develop spinal flexibility at our own pace. This is one of the things about Pilates that makes it easy for people with back pain to work with. In my classes there are different options for exercises so you work at your level.
Pilates Increases Body Awareness
Back pain is a messenger letting us know that we have to pay more attention to our bodies. The Pilates method is full attention exercise. You can’t do Pilates without becoming extremely aware of your alignment and how your body works. This is extremely important for people with back pain because Pilates not only improve physical functioning, but makes you more aware of what you are doing in day to day life. So as you are walking, bending and sitting you start to think about your alignment and core.
Do you have back pain? Try out Pilates! It really does work.