Poor posture and being on your feet all day puts a lot of strain on your back, and it’s estimated that 74% of all nurses will have at least one episode of low-back pain a year. Fortunately, pilates can improve posture and prevent pain — individuals with chronic low-back pain who participated in a pilates-based core exercise program achieved a better quality-of-life score than people with back pain who didn’t do pilates, a recent study in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found.
Since pilates can strengthen your core, improve alignment, and bolster neck strength, it can help you to maintain good posture and form and prevent pain and injury as a busy nurse.
Strengthening your Core
Pilates is all about core strength. With a strong core, you’ll find it easier to maintain good posture and form throughout the working day, keeping back pain at bay. Inactive women who started doing one hour of pilates a week experienced improved core strength, flexibility, muscle mass, and balance. Leg circles, in particular, are a simple yet effective core-strengthening move.
To perform this exercise:
- Start by lying on your back with your arms at your sides.
- Bend your right knee, and place your right foot flat on the ground.
- Raise your left leg and draw a circle out to the side, down to the ground, and back to the original starting position.
- Aim to make the circle as big as possible while ensuring your lower back stays connected to the ground.
- Perform five reps before reversing the circle and performing for another five reps.
- Repeat in both directions on the other leg.
Achieving a Neutral Spine
Achieving a neutral spine is necessary for performing pilates exercises safely and correctly. Neutral alignment ensures each of your spine’s natural curves — cervical (neck), thoracic (middle), and lumbar (lower back) — are in perfect alignment with minimal stress placed on supportive tissue. Adopting a neutral spine can improve posture and keep injuries at bay.
So, to achieve a neutral spine, lie on your back on the floor and bend your knees with your feet hip-width apart. Your knees, legs, hips, and feet should be parallel. Take slow, deep breaths, and allow your body to relax. Envision your back melting into the floor. Then, perform a pelvic tilt.
Tighten your abdominal muscles, exhale, and press your lower spine into the floor. Inhale and release. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the neutral spine position, your goal is to maintain this posture throughout your pilates practice.
Improving Neck Strength
Don’t let neck pain ruin your shift. Repetitive tasks like reaching, pulling, and pushing — activities nurses perform continually — are a key cause of neck pain. Maintaining good neck posture while you work is an effective way to treat and prevent chronic pain.
The kneeling shoulder shrug is a simple yet effective pilates move that can specifically strengthen the upper trapezius muscle — a large muscle that covers the base of your neck, your shoulders, and the middle of your back. In turn, you’ll minimize strain on your neck, strengthen your upper body, and find it easier to maintain good neck posture.
So, begin in a stable kneeling position:
- Press your shins and feet into the ground, push your pelvis forward, and engage your core.
- Grab a pair of light dumbbells (anywhere between one and five pounds is great), and hold your arms out at about 45 degrees with your palms facing behind you.
- Slowly shrug your shoulders up to the top corners of the room and pause for a couple of seconds before lowering them down again.
You want to achieve a full range of motion in a fluid, easy, and pain-free manner. Repeat for around ten to fifteen reps. Remember, if you experience headaches or migraines, you may need to start this exercise without weights.
Pilates is essential to staying healthy and preventing back pain as a busy nurse. By strengthening your core, achieving a neutral spine, and improving your neck strength, you’ll improve your alignment and posture and keep pain at bay.