We all know that Pilates is good for your body, especially the spine, but why? What is the science behind it? Int his blog we will uncover the different ways in which Pilates benefits the spine and explain why Pilates is the best form of movement for your spine.
The most important fact about spine health is that movement is the absolute BEST thing for the spine! The discs (located between every vertebra) are essentially squishy round discs that help to absorb shock through the spine whilst allowing the vertebra to move in all directions. These discs are filled with fluid which over time, start to dehydrate and is replaced with tough, fibrous tissue. This is why the spine can start to stiffen as we age. These discs don’t stay hydrated through water like the rest of our body, they stay hydrated through movement – which is very cool in my opinion!
If we don’t move our spine throughout the day, these discs can prematurely start to dehydrate, leaving the spine feeling stiff and sore. Pilates focuses on stabilising and moving the spine in a way that helps the discs stay plump and hydrated!
Moving in all planes
Pilates moves the spine in all planes of movement. Theses planes are flexion and extension (bending forward and backward), lateral (side bending) and transverse (rotation). We move our spines in all planes every day without even realising. What Pilates does is teaches the spine how to move efficiently and safely through these planes of movement so that we don’t injure ourselves.
For example, certain Pilates exercises help with spinal flexion (bending forwards) which can translate into everyday activities such as bending down to pick something off the floor. These particular exercises teach the body how to flex the spine correctly and safely so that the lower back doesn’t take over and go into spasm – let’s face it, we’ve all had that happen at one point!
Wakes up/strengthens deep muscles
The spine is surrounded by tiny, deep muscles called the multifidus. They work in conjunction with the diaphragm, the transverse abdominis (deep core) and the pelvic floor. Their job is to stiffen and support the spine when they anticipate the spine coming into load. These muscles can ‘switch off’ when the spine is stagnate as they realise they don’t need to be working very hard. Usually, this is fine as that’s what they are designed to do, but, if the spine stays still for too long, it’s difficult for these muscles to wake up when the spine does start to move and take on load which can result in injuries or muscle imbalances.
Pilates ‘wakes up’ these deep spine stabilisers which helps to take load off the superficial muscles which tend to take over, resulting in a tight neck or lower back.
This is already a well-known fact but let’s talk about why. As stated above, Pilates helps activate the deep spine stabilisers, moves the spine in all directions and segmentally which decreases the load throughout the spine. All these wonderful benefits improve posture automatically! If you practice Pilates enough (3-5 times per week) the body will become accustom to your new posture and that chronic back pain will start to disappear.
Tips for keeping the spine moving while sitting!
· Switch out your chair for a gym ball! The gym ball will encourage you to engage your pelvic floor and deep core which in turn helps keep the deep spine stabilisers awake.
· Try to stand up every 10-15 mins and gently move the spine in all plans to keep those discs hydrated!
· Think about the vertebra being stacked on top of one another in the natural shape of the spine. Try not to slouch or extend the lower back too much, just think tall spine with the head floating on top!
In saying this, you must also be moving your spine on the days that you don’t practice Pilates. This will give your spine the fighting chance it needs to hydrate the discs and keep the deep spine stabilisers awake.
At the end of the day, any movement is good movement! Try to move your spine in all the planes in any way you can. Pilates just takes the guess work out of it and also benefits the rest of the body without you needing to think!
For more information on how Pilates can help create happy and healthy joints, click here.
How do I get the most out of my Pilates classes? Find out more here.