Category Archives: Back Pain

Run Forrest Run- top tips for runners

We’ll be leading the warmups for the Hitchin Hard Half Marathon on the 26th June, so we thought we’d share our top tips for runners and how Pilates can help you:

When you’re a runner, whether it’s a short jog or a full on marathon, there are 3 things a runner is looking to do:

  • Run faster and for longer
  • Avoid injury
  • Run more efficiently

The good news is that running is no doubt a great cardiovascular exercise to keep you fit and healthy but the bad news is that it often leads to muscle imbalances, which not addressed can scupper your chances for those three things you strive to achieve.

Body asymmetries  develop because of poor body mechanics which in turn cause certain muscles to become overused (a common trait in runners), while others become underused.  This unfortunately can result in all sorts of issues for you the runner from lower back pain, IT Band issues, knee and hip problems.

Whilst we can’t change the fact that running does use these muscles over and over again, we can look at ways to help address the imbalances so we’re less likely to get the injuries, finish the race and shave off valuable minutes from our time.

In Pilates, we love our bums (and yours!) and whilst we strive to helping you achieve the balance between weak glutes and over tight hip flexors, in running there is an important reason why!

One of the most common issues we see a lot in all sorts of people but commonly in runners is the internally rotating knee/thigh. This is where the knee falls into the midline rather than tracking straight forward. Finding and then strengthening the glutes effectively allows us to stabilise the pelvis and stop the constant battle of your knee being pushed and pulled inwards and outwards.

Love your glutes
Some great exercises to target all those glutes are:

  • Shoulder bridge
  • Swimming – 4 point kneeling
  • Side Clam
  • Side leg lifts

Lengthen the tight hip flexors

Tight hip flexors are a very common ailment that runners suffering from. This along with a weak “core” often leads to a forward and downward tilt on the pelvis, again resulting in more loading to the knees and excessively arching the lower back

Some great exercises to target the tip flexors

  • Dynamic Lunges- ensure good activation of the glutes
  • Swan dive- opens the whole chest and lengthens the front of the body, abdominal wall and hip flexors whilst strengthening the glutes

Get stronger from inside out

It’s no good just hoping to target your tight spots with some static holding stretches that only temporarily release the problem, only to find after your next run it springs back. It all comes back to the muscle imbalance and poor body mechanics thing we mentioned earlier. The spine plays a huge part in ensuring the pelvis stays in an optimal position and limits the stress and load placed on other areas.

Luckily Pilates is all about this strength from within. It’s not a list of individual exercises and stretches but more a method of full body moves that will condition the whole body from head to toe with a full awarenesss and use of your inner stabilising postural muscles (known as the core) to work the limbs.

In short this kind of exercise programme will target everything at once, a perfect system of exercises created with flow and precision to ensure good alignment, form, breathing, strength and stability whilst allowing your body to naturally correct the war between your tight muscles and weak muscles.

Recently a lady came to us to start Pilates with hip and knee pain that was preventing her continuing her running, so much so she was having to give up her training and pull out of the Paris marathon. In just 4 weeks of regular Pilates, she felt so much better she decided to keep her place and within 8 weeks she completed the run pain free with over 1/2 hour shaved off her time.

And what runner doesn’t want that kind of result?! Book onto our our Intro to Pilates courses or find out about our individualised 1:1 personal training and see the benefits for yourself.

Happy running!

Written by Michelle Smith,

Director The Pilates Pod

www.thepilatespod.co.uk

 

Top tips for preventing back pain in the workplace

It’s reported that 3 out of 4 people have back pain in their lives and 85% of those are undiagoned, meaning there is no specific medical reason why.
SO WHY?!

chained to the desk

Do you ever feel like you’re chained to the office desk?

Considering how much of your day is spent at work, you’re probably right for thinking so! Plus it’s reported 4 out 5 British workers eat their lunch at the desk so we really are chaining ourselves to the desk!

The office environment presents all sorts of physical stresses on the body.   Monitors too low for your eye-line, chairs too high or too low, phones stuck between the ear and shoulder, RSI and shoulder strain from repetitive typing without correct support, wrong lighting causing eye strain…. shall we go on?!

But one of the biggest problems we face is sitting down all day, and lets face it, most of us leave work and go home to sit all evening on the sofa! This long period of inactivity causes the spine to:

  • Slouch and gradually compress against gravity
  • Adds strain to the lower back
  • Forces the mid back to overly round and tighten the chest and weaken the back support muscles
  • Pushes the head further further, adding to neck strain, headaches and increasing load added onto the spine.
  • Shortens and tightens hip flexors
  • Weakens the important abdominal core muscles
  • Reduces space for the vital organs

So what’s the solution?

I quit quit1

Ok, maybe not! But thankfully it is possible to make a few changes that will reduce the time and how you sit at your desk and improve your back pain.

  • Swop your chair for a stability ball. Posture is greatly increased by working your core stabilising and back muscles as you sit on a ball, as well as been shown to lead to better circulation, upper body mobility and less beck and joint pain.
  • Get a raised desk and do away with the chair at all! LinkedIn staff did this and saw a 50% reduction in back pain from not sitting down!
  • Ensure typing is done with wrist support resting on the desk. Awkward positions when typing can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Get a hands free set for your desk phone. No more holding the phone between your ear and shoulder which causes neck and shoulder pain. Plus hands free means you can stand up and walk around more so less time sitting down.
  • Get a grip!  We’re losing our grip power as most things we do is by finger touch. Building up grip strength by making and tightening a fist (without tightening your shoulder and neck) will exercise the forearm and the small muscles in the hands, reduce the effects of typing RSI  and carpal tunnel syndrome and give you great toned triceps too!
  • Wiggle at your desk. if sitting still is the enemy, then have a little wiggle. Circle your ankles, flex and point the toes for improved circulation- do the same in the wrists. Stretch your neck by tipping your ear to your shoulder, circle your shoulders, lift your chest up to the sky and lengthen your spine, circle your pelvis like a clock to move the lower back.
  • Counter balance the effects of desk working by doing some Pilates regularly. Move well every day with some forward bending, side bending, twisting and back bending/extension will go a long way to helping to reduce the effects of sitting down all day.
  • Make the tea! Getting the teas/coffees in for your team will not only get you out of the chair and moving your spine but it’ll also make you more popular too! We suggest you use the handy colour chart to get the right strength of your colleagues favourite brew… mine’s a Builders Brew!

what's your strength brew?

You may also be interested in the following related  blogs:

 

Written by: Michelle Smith
Director, The Pilates Pod
www.thepilatespod.co.uk

Are we a nation of pill poppers?

“The one thing that is taking up GP’s time is those arriving with back pain.”doctors waiting room

That was the view in the Cambridge News recently, reporting on how we are a nation obsessed with the control of pain and the taking of pain relief. We’ve all done it- reached for the headache tablets when our head is pounding and thanked those little white pills for sweet relief when it’s gone. But what happens the next day and the day after that when the same headache comes back?

A recent study from The Lancet journal has revealed that paracetamol is no better for back pain than placebo. With 26 million people suffering from back pain in the UK, that’s a pretty big number of people reaching for the bathroom cabinet supplies and keeping the pharmaceutical company rich!

Of course there are people who’s lives and conditions rely on medication, we’re not talking about those here naturally. But have we become reliant on the “quick fix” of those little tablets to get us through back, neck or headache pain on a daily basis?

Deal with the cause and not the symptom

From a previous life coping with back pain from a car accident, I know too well of the joy  you feel from re-occurring visits to the osteopath where your back is temporarily “fixed” only for it to spring back again a few days or weeks later and rely on that fixing again. Or to manage the pain with Tens machine and medication that was offered to me with the NHS. Do you want to spend your life like that? I got fed up relying on someone or something to “fix” me and started looking for ways to manage myself and that’s when the lightbulb moment happened.

lightbulb moment

Sure, that’s dealing with the symptoms, but what is the cause?!

In my case the symptoms were back and neck pain, spinal stiffness from being locked up on impact and muscular spasms. But the cause (obviously we know the car accident was the culprit) was that my spine was no longer in alignment, my neck was too far forward, my mid back twisted and locked up, my lower back and pelvis had been trying to cope with this imbalances and caused pain.
After the initial physio help and no help from the Tens machine, I invested in Self Management Tools, better known as Pilates!

It’s really important to get your spine checked out. A good osteopath or chiropractor won’t just look at the symptom (tight hamstrings, sore shoulders etc) but look at the whole spine and realign your spine and pelvis into it’s optimal position, allowing your muscles and joints around it to then work freely and without restrictions. But without some sort of “management tools” to help keep your spine and pelvis aligned, this trip back to the docs or osteoapth  can be a frequent (and expensive) reoccuring one!

For me, once a week doing Matwork lead to 3-4 times a week on both Mat and Reformer and guess what…

magic wand Hey presto, the magic happened!

I was moving my body again in all directions; forward flexion, side bend, rotation twist and backwards extension and feeling supple. I got stronger in my centre and core, my glutes starting working and the pain disappeared. My body started to help itself!

At first I didn’t realise it, but after a couple of weeks I began to think “hang on a minute, my back hasn’t been hurting like it usually does!” and then I realised what I’d been doing differently- Pilates!

But it’s not really magic is it, it’s just a bit of common sense.  Pilates isn’t a magic pill but it’s sensible, controlled movement. Pilates is exercise, exercise is movement, movement is what makes us feel better!

Move often, with control, stability and mobility. Stretch, strengthen, feel better!

And you can look forward to chucking those pills in the bin!

For more info on how Pilates can help you, see www.thepilatespod.co.uk

Pilates and Back Pain: Why it works

My last blog was about putting up with back pain and why that’s not a good idea. On a much more positive note lets have a look at why Pilates is so great for managing back pain. It goes without saying that any pain should be diagnosed by a medical professional reducing the chances of aggravating rather than relieving your discomfort.

Did your mother ever tell you to stand up straight? She was onto something here. She probably also told you to eat your vegetables too but now we might pay a nutritionist to advise us on superfoods!

Mother knows best
Mother knows best

Poor, slumped and collapsed postures standing and especially sitting place a tremendous amount of strain on our tissues. If muscles are held in a shortened position for a prolonged period other muscles will have to work overtime in order to support the weight of the surrounding structures. The body’s energy efficient response to this is to lay down extra collagen into the overworked muscle to make it more like a ligament, allowing it to support the same weight without expending much energy through prolonged muscular contraction. So rather than having well balanced muscles around a joint we have shortened and weakened muscles on one side versus overly long muscles that have lost their ability to contract as muscles fibres are replaced by collagen.

Hence we end up with a poor balance of muscular control around many joints. The resulting lack of stability around our sensitive joints  can result in poorly controlled movements with painful muscular spasms as the body quickly tries to gain control.

Muscle imbalances from sitting
Muscle imbalances from sitting

Pilates teaches you to lengthen your body in every possible direction. Even some of the starting positions for many exercises are hard work! This continual striving to find more space in your body is decompressing the joints and distributing the load of either movement or static held positions. In the Pilates mat exercises its just you and gravity. On the equipment the springs act as gravity for you to push and lengthen out against. A reformer is literally trying to squash and compress you giving you some feedback to lengthen out against. Thats why the equipment has the funky looking straps and handles so your limbs can experience this as well as your spine. Once you get back on the mat again after using the equipment your body knows what to do, as you reach a leg away for Single Leg Stretch you keep reaching into a now imaginary strap.

Reformer
Get a little length

Pilates brings your smaller supporting muscles to the party. Too often these small stabilisers get edged out of our movement patterns by the bigger movement producing muscles. Ever had to drive a car without power steering when you are used to having it? Thats what your body is doing when the stabilising muscles are neglected. It takes so much more effort to move the damn thing around! Advanced Pilates practitioners make the harder exercises look easy and flowing. They are still working hard but no part of the body is working harder than it has to.

Quality of movement is really important in Pilates. Once you start to find and use your stabilising muscles movement becomes much smoother and more controlled. Many of our stabilising muscles fine tune out movements but are also rich in nerve endings that send information back to our central nervous system. Our movements are then better calibrated, and of course smoother movement is far less likely to cause pain. Not having this feedback is like trying to negotiate the world with fogged up glasses.

One of the greatest gifts Pilates gives people with back pain is the ability to take back some control of their situation. Back pain is frightening and frustrating in equal measures with many chronic long term sufferers becoming depressed when it limits their previous level of activity. It’s a real privilege to work with this population as they learn how movement is going to help rather than hinder them.

No back pain
No back pain

Osteopath’s thinking… Back Pain- why do we live with it?

Back Pain, why do we live with it?
The statistics are scary, 80% of adults will at some time experience debilitating back pain. As if that’s not bad enough then most of that 80% can look forward to recurring episodes. This can lead to cycles of treatment with your therapist of choice and or popping pills in order to deal with the pain.

back pain

Rather than dealing with the underlying causes many people fall into a cycle of coping with their episodes of back pain and though this may be all circumstances allow us to do in the short term in the long term it could be compounding the problem.

As an osteopath the low back pain patients I see fall into two groups:
• Patients in acute pain who have regular treatment until their symptoms subside
• Patients in acute pain who once their symptoms are under control continue with regular
maintenance treatments.

It’s easy to say that the second group are perhaps making the more sensible choice but we all have different demands on our resources, be this time or finances and for some patients the boom and bust cycle of back pain treatment is the only viable option.
For many people this coping mechanism is what gets you through the rough times but it’s not a great long term solution for many reasons.

What both groups have in common is the factors that contribute to them being in pain are usually similar an unholy trinity of poor movement patterns, leading to imbalanced muscles that act unevenly on the joints of the body resulting in wear and tear and strain.
This is not an easy fix as our movement patterns are difficult to change, especially when people become fearful of movement triggering pain. In many cases the amount of tissue damage that has occurred in order to trigger a painful episode is vastly out of proportion to the acute pain or immobility that can result.

For example the tearing of a few fibres of a ligament will cause an inflammatory response. This is the body’s natural response to any injury. One of my tutors described the area of the injury as becoming like a politician: swollen, painful and useless!
Inflammation begins to subside after 72 hours and this is where movement becomes an essential part of the healing process. As the tissue repairs collagen fibres will start to be laid down around the injured area. If the area is immobile this will happen in a random pattern and the resulting scar tissue could end up restricting movement in the future exacerbating the muscular imbalances in the area and leading to further problems with joint dysfunction.

If the injured area is passively moved through a pain free range of motion during this time then the collagen fibres will organise themselves around these movements and the resulting scar tissue will be far less restrictive with a greater chance of returning to normal movement patterns.
The fear of movement can persist long after the injury has calmed down. This can make people very wary of moving, the very thing that their body is designed to do in order to heal and setting in place the potential for further injury.

pills pills and more pills

Popping pills as a way to cope with back pain also has it’s drawbacks as a long term solution. The over the counter remedies easily available to us typically contain a class of medications known as non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS. The NHS Choices websites states that a common side effect of prolonged NSAIDs can be indigestion and stomach ulcers, further adding to your woes.

 

So far this is all pretty depressing but take heart, you are after all reading a Pilates blog and in my next piece I’m going to tell you just why I think Pilates is so fantastic for back pain.

no pills, just Pilates- thanks Pilates Nerd for the image Image by Pilates Nerd

Written by London Osteopath and Pilates instructor, Jon Hawkins
www.freerangepilates.com
Guest blogger for The Pilates Pod

Managing back pain is like being a tight rope walker

When you think of balance, you imagine the tightrope walker desperately trying not to fall off the rope, leaning one way and the other to achieve a good centre of gravity, alignment and control to be able to walk in a straight line unaided, unaltered and with ease.

Tightrope walker
Life’s about balance, your body is the same!

Your body needs this same ‘balance’ to perform daily tasks with the same ease but we’re not talking about whether you can stand on one leg kinda balance!

Whatever the reason of this imbalance, the cause nearly always ends up the same- imbalance of muscles. As a result of your actions, your muscles may end up either too tight (pulling on the body in one direction) or too weak (allowing a lack of support the other way) and wherever the affected area, there is always a knock on effect through the rest of the body. After all we are like a jigaw puzzle, all pieces of the body connecting together with muscle, ligament, fascia, tissue and skin. You can’t finish the jigsaw without all the pieces, they work together for the overall bigger picture.
What you feel today as a pain in the knee, may later be a pain in the back but you don’t know it, don’t appreciate it and don’t do anything about it until the Doc is telling you to improve your “core” or the physio is sticking their elbow in your butt to release tight muscles.
So if you’re reading this thinking “well I don’t have back pain” GREAT, we want to keep it that way!

Of course if the tight rope walker fell off the rope, he/she’d probably end up hurting herself, just the same as if we fell of a horse, it’d hurt right? We’d know why our back hurt, why we got bruises and the cause would be obvious.BUT for most of us we don’t necessarily put two and two together. As far as we’re concerned, we wake up one day and our back hurts, or we were putting our pants on and that’s it “pop.”

In most circumstances, it’s very unlikely that the very act of putting your pants on made your back go, I severely doubt you are wearing heavily armored pants with a huge weight-bearing effect on your body?!

But instead, the years of sitting at the desk staring at the screen has driven your head and beck forward and taken its toll on your neck and shoulders and lower back by compensation, or the 2 kids you’ve got gave you a lovely baby bump that pulled your pelvis forward and down causing excess strain on your back and the weakened deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles have never quite been the same or said hello again to help give your back support.

Even the professional football running up and down the pitch all day every day, fit as a fiddle heart and lungs wise, will be kicking the ball repetitively, twisting and turning and running into tackles, allowing for over developed exterior muscles (they look nice don’t they) but with imbalanced weaker inner muscles that give the body support.

So my charming readers, I’m not suggesting you rush out and join the circus and start brushing up on your balance act, but a little mind to what’s going on inside your body on a daily basis as a result of your normal daily tasks is worth the effort. We want strong, healthy bodies, not because for most of us we fancy ourselves as pin-up girls and Calvin Klein models, but because with a focus on inner “core” strengthening exercises, we can develop balance to our muscles an joints and therefore pick up our kids for a cuddle, do a spot of gardening or continue running, all without pain and aches.. or just be able to put our own knickers on… a basic human right surely?!

Large undies!
Pants on time

Until next time… 😉