Why do so many people suffer with back pain?

Since I started my Pilates classes I have really noticed that a lot of people actually come along as they have been advised to try it by their health practitioner to try and help relieve back pain…but why do so many people suffer with it anyway? I have often heard ‘’I was just bending down and my back just went....’’ or ‘’I was just reaching up and I felt my back twinge’’ Well there may possibly have been small warning signs before that have simply gone unnoticed, but these sudden ‘twinge’ moments are usually those that make us stop and think.

There are so many reasons behind why people end up with back pain but very generally speaking they could be categorised into the following:

  • New use
  • Misuse
  • Overuse
  • Abuse
  • Disuse
  • Environmental factors
  • Emotional stress


1st on the list = New Use

A common cause of back pain is starting a new activity, or doing something different, out of the ordinary or on an irregular basis. For example, having a sudden urge to do some decorating, or clearing the garden in a big way, or perhaps having enthusiastically joined the local gym and signing up for every single activity on the timetable. Goodness...…how we might know about these sudden bursts of activity when we wake up the following morning! Unless lasting damage has been done, the good news is that the aftereffects will wear off fairly soon but they are a bit of a warning signal to be careful and conscious in the way that we move.


2nd on the list = Misuse

Typically this is the effect of poor postural habits and poor body awareness over a long period of time, which in turn results in poor movement patterns and body alignment. A simple solution is to be consistently conscious of correct postural alignment throughout all daily activity. A good Pilates class will certainly improve posture and teach good body alignment to develop muscle memory. 


3rd on the list = Overuse

This is all about repetitive use of one muscle group creating an imbalance in the body. There are numerous examples of this in all walks of life; from the supermarket checkout person repeatedly twisting the body in one direction, the shoe salesperson eternally bending down to fit shoes, the sailor hiking out and rounding the upper back, the professional golfer bending and rotating with their golf swing, or the tennis player serving again and again.......Eventually all of these imbalanced activities could eventually cause pain and need the imbalance correcting.

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4th on the list = Abuse

Lifting and moving a really heavy weight such as big weighty furniture or patio slabs would be good examples for inclusion in this category. When things need doing we can all be guilty of pushing our bodies too far, or asking too much! Abuse could also be straining the body by lifting and carrying shopping bags that we know are actually just that little bit too heavy, or simply over-reaching, bending and twisting just a that bit too far.


5th on the list = Disuse

A problem with the back may easily result when we attempt an activity that needs a certain degree of strength or flexibility, but which we have long since lost through lack of exercise e.g. disuse. There could also be other factors such as suddenly wearing high heels again after years of wearing flat shoes or simply enjoying dancing the night away again at a lovely wedding.


6th on the list = Environmnent

Surroundings and furniture can have both a good and not so good effect on our bodies. For example, the design of a workstation, our chair, the seat of a car, the sofa we have in the lounge, our choice of bed. If these are all well designed and we can hold ourselves properly to maintain good posture it is easy to avoid problems. We can reduce the pressure on our discs just by sitting correctly, whilst slouching in our chair will severely stress the back.


7th on the list = Fashion and Culture

Hmmmm....Well a good example is as mentioned above; high-heeled shoes. High heels can be distinctly glamorous and elegant and many people wear them all the time. Heel height varies from not too high to extreme, and so does the effect upon the health of the foot, heel and spine. So much as some of us may love high heeled shoes, they do tend to throw the pelvis forward, stressing the lumbar spine, and reduce the stability of the foot. I have to say that I am certainly a devoted lover of my super comfortable Fitflop collection as well as my collection of high heels….but come to think of it the latter do tend to stay mostly in the wardrobe these days!


8th on the list = Emotional Stress

Whenever we are stressed we tend to tense our muscles, which is often why we can end up with tension headaches and a sore neck. We may also feel this tension in the upper shoulders and over a period of time this will make us 'tighten up'' as a result of muscle imbalances. All of this can alter the way we move and the way we stand - paving the way for potential back problems as a result.


Pilates for back pain

It is widely accepted that the principles of Pilates are consistent with an exercise program that promotes back health, teaching neutral alignment of the spine and strengthening the deep postural muscles that support body alignment. Pilates also improves flexibility and mobility of the muscles of the hip and shoulders, as fluid and supported movement through these joints helps prevent unnecessary pull on the vertebrae.


However a note of caution is that exercise may also worsen back pain if not performed correctly, or if diagnosis has not been clear as to which type of movement will avoid aggravation and offer relief. Therefore before starting Pilates or any new exercise programme, remember it is always advisable to check with a GP or other healthcare practitioner if Pilates would be suitable for a specific back condition, and especially if there are any particular movements that should be avoided.



This entry was posted on September 5, 2017