pilatesAre you experiencing recurrent lower back, thoracic or shoulder issues that persist and seem to come back regularly, quite often at the same place? Are you wondering why and how you could manage it?

The musculoskeletal system is an extraordinarily complex mechanism that can became imbalanced and symptomatic following an acute injury, a longstanding poor posture and body awareness or a repetitive movement overtime such as lifting and twisting.

To understand better, visualize a bicycle wheel. Randomly tighten five or six spokes. What happens? Those five or six spikes become very rigid, while others start to loosen up. The wheel is not spinning smoothly as it rolls and you start to see some deviation from the midline.  Yet you could still ride your bike. But what happens if you keep riding it? It is likely that one or maybe two spokes will break.

The human body is similar in a more complex way: Poor postural habits or repetitive movements can lead certain parts of the body to become very tight and restricted while others become slack and underactive. Overtime the tight muscles or joints become tighter and their weak counterparts become weaker. Eventually pain arises and an injury may occur.

It can be overwhelming to understand a recurrent injury and to know what to do. Let’s take an example: You have a chronic lower backache, predominantly on the right that tends to flare up once a year. Once it happens the pain often spreads to another area of the spine and you end up with a painful spot on the thoracic spine. The osteopathic treatment greatly helps but the discomfort tends to come back after a while. You don’t understand why and you wonder what you should do. Your osteopath told you about the benefits of exercises but you don’t know how it could help you.

Well to understand what is happening, remember the bicycle wheel: your spine acts in a similar manner and it is very likely that specific back muscles are too tight while other are underactive. Luckily your Osteopath has considered your body as a unit and has treated the cause of the pain rather than only the symptomatic area. He has worked on the restricted areas to improve your body’s function. It feels looser and freer. Hooray, the pain is gone! Now, what can you do to keep it this way?

Think about the bicycle wheel: it’s all about balance. Although certain areas need to be released and stretched, others need to be strengthened. Stability is as important as flexibility. More importantly all elements of your musculoskeletal system need to work synergistically. What does that mean? It means that it is not only about maintaining a strong core, flexible muscles and a good posture but more about the way we move. We call this “dynamic stabilization” which can be summarized by keeping an optimal postural control in movement.

Pilates is a corrective system of exercising that has been developed by Joseph Pilates to improve whole body health. Its principles include breathing, optimal articulation and alignment of the spine and extremities, core control, efficient placement of the centre of gravity and integration of those into movement. Not only does it teach postural awareness and core stability, it helps to naturally move in an optimal manner, which improves biomechanics and decreases the stress placed upon our joints. It is a great method to maintain a healthy spine, to prevent injuries and for athletes to improve physical performance.

Interestingly Joseph Pilates shares similar ideas with the founder of osteopathy Andrew Taylor Still, as both recognised the person as a combination of body, mind and spirit. Mr Pilates believed in mental and physical discipline and wrote that whole body health can be achieved through exercise, proper diet, good hygiene and sleeping habits, plenty of sunshine and fresh air and a balance in life of work, recreation and relaxation. He also placed “breathing” as one of the fundamental aspect of our physiology and emphasized on the importance of breathing correctly.

François Naef, Osteopath

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