Pilates & Low Back Pain

Resist the Slump!


Have you ever caught yourself sinking into the sofa as if it’s eating you? The more I teach and practice Pilates the more I start to become aware of my day to day posture and times when I get caught off guard and let myself slump.

Why is this so bad? Well, we only get one spine and we should really look after it. As we get older the discs that sit between the bony vertebrae of the spine start to degrade. They consist of fibrous rings that wrap around a gel like centre. As we get older the gel becomes less fluid and the fibres start to wear and tear. Like most parts of the body efficient movement is the key to good health and sustained static postures can be damaging, our bodies simply were not designed to sit and binge watch episodes of Breaking Bad (Guilty). Movement benefits the discs in our spines by delivering nutrients to the tissue via the hydraulic action of compression and release as the tissue is deformed and reformed by movement. Our discs are almost avascular, meaning that they have a very poor blood supply and as most of our tissues rely on blood supply in order to provide nutrients movement is especially essential to spine health.

Sustained postures, such as slumping on the sofa cause the discs to be continually deformed and this is potentially damaging for two reasons:

  • When a tissue is stretched and deformed over a long period it creeps or effectively elongates for a temporary period even after the stretching force is removed. This means that the inherent stability of the spine has been compromised. So once we get up from the sofa and move around there is a window of opportunity that puts us at risk from potentially damaging movements. This can be a relatively minor movement that consists of some forward bending combined with rotation, such as picking a mug up from a coffee table.
  • Slumping also causes the gel like centre of the disc to be displaced posteriorly where it puts pressure on the fibrous disc portion and can cause a disc bulge or even worse a herniation or slipped disc where the contents of the disc enter the spinal canal and irritate the highly sensitive nerves.

So slumping is very bad for us, also putting our internal organs into a compressed state which can interfere with the changing internal pressure gradients they often require to move vital fluids around. Like many things slumping is a bad habit which takes time to break. I used to think that the seats on some underground lines were very poorly designed but when you actually sit tall in them and allow them to give your lower back support then they can be a lot more comfortable than you might think. However, the default position for those of us lucky enough to get a seat is to usually fold into ourselves over out papers or handheld devices.

One piece of feedback that I never get tired of hearing from clients is that since starting regular Pilates practice they not only feel that their posture is improving but that they are starting to become aware when its not and are then able to correct it.

Next time you are sitting on your sofa at the end of the day check in with yourself from time to time to see if you are letting your lower back slump. Look after your spine and it will look after you. The only way for any self-respecting Pilates lover to end a post like this is with a few words from the man himself:

“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at thirty, you are old. If it is completely flexible at sixty, you are young.”

Joseph H. Pilates

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