From athletes to those undergoing rehab, people from all walks of life have seen the therapeutic nature of Pilates firsthand. While people are most familiar with Pilates from their gym, it’s the subtle elements of Pilates that make this method different from all the others. Pilates improves coordination, spinal alignment, stamina, flexibility, balance, eases aches and pains, and reduces stress–all valuable components when being a nurse demands you remain on your feet for long periods of time. Thankfully, Pilates can be performed anywhere, even in a busy workplace. With back pain being a common complaint among nurses, the following basic exercises will help reduce back pain, strengthen your core, and improve your posture.

1. Activate your powerhouse.

The powerhouse consists of abdominal, spinal, and gluteal muscles. It’s important to engage these muscles throughout the day to protect your back. For this exercise, stand up and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Try your best to equally distribute your weight through both feet. Keep your spine in a neutral position–the point in which your pelvis is neither tucked nor arched. Stand tall and tighten your glutes. Place one hand on your belly and the other hand on you back. Inhale and let your stomach fill with air (your front hand will move forward). Exhale and “scoop” your abdominals toward your spine while releasing as much air as you can. Complete eight repetitions. You can use this exercise throughout the day as a reminder to engage your core muscles.

2. Elongate the spine.

Place your back against a wall, and move your feet about a foot out in front of you. Gently press your head against the wall, draw your shoulders back, and keep your backside in contact with the wall. Pretend there’s a string extending from your tailbone through the crown of your head to help you stand tall. Take an inhale, and as you exhale, scoop your abdominals toward your spine (as in the first exercise). Repeat this eight times to help elongate the spine. Try to keep your ribcage relaxed as you engage your abdominals.

3. Circle your arms.

Remain in the elongated spine position against the wall. Draw your abdominals toward your spine to support your lower back. Inhale as you raise your arms overhead, and exhale as you bring them out to the side and around in front of you to make a big circle. Repeat four times, and then reverse the direction of the circles. When you add movement to this exercise, you’re challenging your postural alignment. Try not to disrupt the position of your spine against the wall as you circle your arms.

4. Strengthen your neck.

Sit in a chair with your feet firm on the floor and your back comfortably upright. Place one hand on top of the other and lift your hands to your forehead so that the back of the top hand is touching your head. While trying to maintain a neutral position with your neck, push your head firmly into your hands as you simultaneously press your hands into your head. Hold for two deep breaths and relax. Repeat the process five times to help strengthen your neck and improve your posture. It can be helpful to try this exercise in the mirror first to avoid hyperextending or flexing your neck.

Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio

Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is a Chicago-based, freelance lifestyle writer, licensed occupational therapist, and certified Pilates instructor. Her expertise is in health, wellness, fitness, and chronic illness management.

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