Why Yoga and Pilates are doing nothing for your back

Done right, yoga and Pilates could be the solution to your lower back pain, done wrong and they could be the cause Fifa 18!

What’s that pain in your back?

Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons that South Africans visit their doctor. It affects around 40% of all South Africans and is second only to the common cold for missing days of work. Lower back pain is not a specific disease but rather, a symptom that could occur from a number of different causes. Some of the most common causes for lower back pain are:

  • Sitting too much (lower back pain is only ONE of the downsides of this activity!)
  • Ongoing stress and strain
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Structural problems with the spine
  • It’s a mystery! In some people, despite seeing their doctor, no exact cause can be found.

Exercise IS a solution

Medication is often the first point of call to help with a sore back, but certainly isn’t the only one. Research shows that more than 60% of all lower back pain can be treated by using exercise alone. But there is a catch: it has to be the right type of exercise done in the right way.

Your core muscles: your body’s corset

Supporting the weight of your neck and back is a group of muscles called your “core”. The core is actually made up of three sheaths of muscles: the upper abs, the side muscles (obliques), and a very deep layer of muscles (which have fancy names including “erector spinae”, “transverse abdominals” and “multifidus”). These very deep muscles are the ones that do all the good stuff, like support your spine and act as a natural corset. Core strength should not be confused with having a rippling six-pack! Having strong core muscles takes pressure off your spine, and in turn improves the strength and stability of your lower back. In this way, regularly exercising these muscle groups is a very effective way of reducing lower back pain.

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The RIGHT kind of exercise to alleviate lower back pain

In addition to lowering stress levels, heart rate and blood pressure, yoga and Pilates are considered the “gold standard” for helping with back pain. Both of these types of exercise (yes, they do count as exercise) focus specifically on back-ache busting:

  • Core strengthening
  • Controlled movement
  • Spine alignment
  • Flexibility, strength and agility

However, if yoga and are done incorrectly, they can also cause harm.

Doing the RIGHT exercise, the RIGHT way

Ironically, the most common injury from Pilates and yoga, is back-ache. Movements and exercises done in these classes are very specific, technical and challenging. If you do them without using the correct technique, they do just the opposite of what they are supposed to do: they put excess strain on your spine and surrounding muscles.

How to ensure you’re doing it RIGHT

  • Find a qualified yoga or Pilates instructor. If you have an existing back problem, the exercises that you do will need to be tailored to suit your specific needs
  • Find a small class. The most qualified instructor won’t be able to ensure everyone is using the right technique if they can’t see everyone at the same time
  • When in doubt, ASK!
  • Never sacrifice form for figures. Doing the same exercise 20 times without the proper technique is never as good as doing it once, correctly
  • Listen to your body. Be sensitive to any tightness or strain. Just because you did a particular pose one day, doesn’t mean your body will be able to do it the next
  • Persevere! If your back pain didn’t arrive suddenly overnight, you can’t expect it to go away after a single session.


Sources: Greatist, WebMD, ScienceDirect