My multidisciplinary practice is dedicated to finding the least invasive solution to your spine condition, that offers the longest lasting results. The practitioners whom I offer spine care packages with, are trained in teaching core strength and stability exercises often derived from Yoga and Pilates. They often use a combination of the 2 tailored to your needs.
Yoga and Pilates are both low-impact exercise techniques that are commonly used to improve flexibility, balance, and core strength. They are both often recommended as therapeutic exercise modalities for individuals with spinal issues.
However, the question of which is better depends on the specific needs and goals of the individual. If you or a loved one have been experiencing back pain or you currently suffer from any given spinal condition, you may find this article helpful.
Before we dive into discovering which activity is better suited for spinal health, it is important to understand the similarities and differences between Yoga and Pilates.
Yoga is a mind-body practice that originated in ancient India and involves physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation. It is designed to improve flexibility, strength, and balance, as well as reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Pilates, on the other hand, is an exercise methodology developed by Joseph Pilates in the 20th century. It emphasizes controlled, precise movements and focuses on strengthening the deep muscles of the trunk, including the abdominal and back muscles (the core).
Note that similar to Yoga, Pilates is typically performed on a mat, however, unlike yoga, it may also be performed using specialized equipment such as the Reformer or Cadillac.
So, is Yoga or Pilates better for my spine? Well, the answer isn’t as simple as you may have hoped. Like anything, it always depends on a myriad of factors.
With that said, below are several common scenarios as it pertains to spinal conditions and how Yoga and Pilates may be of some benefit.
For individuals with chronic lower back pain (from simple wear and tear in the spine and muscular strain), both Yoga and Pilates can be effective forms of exercise. A review of 11 randomized controlled trials found that Yoga was more effective than a control intervention in reducing chronic lower back pain and improving functional capacity.
Another review of 12 randomized controlled trials found that Pilates was also effective in reducing chronic lower back pain and improving functional capacity, but the evidence was not as strong as for Yoga. This is possibly because stiffness becomes a significant factor in such patients and Yoga possibly has more emphasis on flexibility and mobility as well as core strength.
In the context of spondylolisthesis (slippage of one of the spine bones over the other), where there may be instability, many of the practitioners I work with prefer the Pilates exercises with more focus on core strength and stability than flexibility. So an assessment of the scans by a spine surgeon can help direct you to the cause and correct treatment pathway. In my multidisciplinary practice, I liaise with the practitioners I work with, and guide them on the target, based on the imaging. They keep me updated with your progress.
For individuals with spinal stenosis, a condition in which the spinal canal becomes narrowed, both Yoga and Pilates may also be beneficial. A study of 30 individuals with spinal stenosis found that a 12-week Yoga program led to significant improvements in pain, functional ability, and quality of life.
Another study of 40 individuals with spinal stenosis found that a 12-week Pilates program led to significant improvements in pain, functional ability, and quality of life.
For individuals with osteoporosis, a condition characterized by low bone density and an increased risk of fractures, both Yoga and Pilates can be safe and effective forms of exercise, as long as they are performed correctly. However, certain yoga postures and Pilates exercises may need to be modified or avoided to prevent fractures.
For example, poses that involve forward bends, such as downward-facing dog, may put too much strain on the spine and should be avoided. In Pilates, exercises that involve excessive flexion or extension of the spine, such as the roll-up or roll-down, should also be modified or avoided.
Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine is curved to the side, often in an exaggerated "C" or "S" shape. It can cause back pain, difficulty standing or sitting for long periods, and difficulty breathing.
Neither Yoga or Pilates can correct the deformity, but they can both be helpful in treating the secondary symptoms of scoliosis, as they can help improve flexibility, strength, and balance. It is best to work with trained instructors or therapists who can advise on exercise modifications to yield the best results.
A herniated disc occurs at the point in which the disc bulges at the center of the spine and tears through the outer layer. This can cause back pain, leg pain, and numbness or tingling.
Both Yoga and Pilates can help alleviate pain and improve functional ability in individuals with a herniated disc, but it is important to avoid exercises that put excessive strain on the spine, such as forward bends or extensions. In this setting many of the therapists I work with prefer Pilates exercises to Yoga as there is more emphasis on core stability than flexibility and so can potentially prevent the herniation worsening.
It is important to consult with a healthcare professional in spine-care or a trained instructor before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have a slipped disc.
As previously mentioned, both Yoga and Pilates can be modified to meet the needs and abilities of individuals with spinal issues (including chronic lower back pain, spinal stenosis, osteoporosis and slipped disc). It is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider or a trained instructor before starting any new exercise program.
he specific needs and goals of the individual will determine which activity is better suited to ensure safety and effectiveness.
Once the acute flare up of pain has settled and the chronic pain is under better control, then either practice is an effective form of maintenance to prevent further relapses.
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