Pilates and yoga classes are becoming increasingly popular forms of exercise. Developed to help strengthen the core and tone muscles, each of these programs are designed to promote the neutral alignment of the spine and promote back health.

Through strengthening the deep postural muscles that support this alignment, asymmetries can be improved and thus decrease wear and tear that results from uneven stresses on the intervertebral joints and discs. By targeting and strengthening specific muscle groups, those who experience back pain can condition and stretch problematic areas to reduce or avoid its occurrence.

Although highly beneficial when undertaken properly, Physiotherapist and Clinical Pilates instructor Jo Keers warns that poor technique when practicing yoga and pilates can actually cause or worsen back pain.

“Many people have heard about core abdominal muscles and do exercises to strengthen them, but many aren’t performing these exercises correctly,” she said.

Where more and more people are suffering problems as a result of the exercise, Stewart Tucker, a spinal surgeon at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in London says that the problem lies in how pilates is being taught.

“I’m seeing an increasing number of patients who have muscular strains or aggravated degenerate discs after attending Pilates classes because they thought it would help with their back problems,” he said. “While I recommend it for back pain and after injury, if exercises are carried out incorrectly they can weaken the back and cause existing conditions to deteriorate.”

Where celebrities such as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson endorse these types of exercise, specialists are concerned that this causes individuals to view pilates and yoga as nothing more than a gym class, disregarding the need for training and direction from a trained professional.

Priya Dasoju of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy advises attending a class with no more than 12 participants as teachers are unable to give the required attention to each person’s progress. She also advises those wishing to undertaking yoga or pilates to seek out a specialist teacher and always advise them of any existing back problems.

It is recommended that you seek a professional opinion prior to practicing any form of exercise when experiencing back pain.

Additional resources:
http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/yoga-pilates-tai-chi/how-yoga-helps-back
http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/core-promises-20091008-gnbv.html
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2161301/Pilates-make-bad-worse-Experts-agree-help-reduce-pain-improve-posture-hidden-dangers.html