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“Core” Exercise Program Including Pilates & Yoga

At A Glance

  • For back problems, proper exercise can be a powerful self-treatment and effective alternative to surgery.
  • The foundation of any exercise or rehabilitation program for treating back pain and immobility must involve what’s known as the core muscles of the pelvis, back, abdomen, chest and neck.
  • Pilates, yoga and a program using exercise balls can be highly effective ways to attain core strengthening.
  • These programs should never be done without the guidance of a trained and certified instructor.
  • Core Exercise treats Sprains and Strains, Degenerative Disc Disease, Spondylolisthesis and Spinal Stenosis.


The muscles of the pelvis, back, abdomen and chest support the spine and significantly influence our posture. So exercising and strengthening this muscle group, also referred to as the core muscles, can greatly improve back function. Specialists often refer to this approach as core stabilization.

Mother Nature will do everything necessary to keep our head balanced over our pelvis. The human head weighs on average 15 pounds, creating the effect of carrying a bowling ball sitting on top of the spine and putting tremendous pressure on the spine muscles.

The effect can produce changes to posture, causing certain muscle groups to become tighter or more contracted and others to be more stretched or elongated. In many ways, these changes contribute to the development of scoliosis (a curving of the spine to one side), kyphosis (an exaggerated forward rounding of the spine), swayback posture (hyperlordosis, an exaggerated inward curve of the lower back), or combinations of these.

Typically, the body attempts to compensate for these changes. For example, people with spinal stenosis often have to walk in a flexed forward posture to alleviate the pain. To compensate and to keep the head over the pelvis, they have to bend their hips and knees to pivot their upper body backwards to restore balance.

This can lead to severe back pain from chronic muscle spasms. And walking for long periods of time with hips and knees slightly bent will accelerate the development of arthritis and other problems involving those joints.

A core exercise program involves stretching chronically tight muscles or muscles suffering spasms. As with any health condition, it’s good to seek different opinions and evaluate options, and always work with certified and experienced trainers, instructors, and therapists.

The choices below for core stabilization exercises are safe and effective. They are also often enjoyable to perform with very measurable and predictable results.

  • Exercise balls of varying sizes can be purchased for home use and are available at most fitness centers and gyms. More than 1,000 exercises can be performed on the balls of varying levels of difficulty and effectiveness.
  • Pilates was developed in New York more than a century by German immigrant Joseph Pilates to treat injured workers. Pilates exercises incorporate stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercise in one activity, and does not require any equipment.


However, a Pilates instructor should evaluate a beginner in order to help design a proper program for each person’s level and underlying condition.

The emphasis of Pilates is on optimal muscle stretching and strengthening in a balanced fashion. The upper body will become more balanced, posture will improve, and significant and chronic pain can be effectively treated.

People with acute or chronic spine conditions should stick to the traditional Pilates program. (Dr. Biscup recommends a “classic” Pilates program that follows the original teachings and philosophy, as opposed to “hybrid” approaches that mix Pilates with other forms of exercise.)

Yoga focuses less on repetitive motion and more on stretching and muscle strengthening through striking various poses. A certified yoga instructor should evaluate anyone with back problems in order to establish a safe and effective program. Other benefits of Yoga include enhanced metabolism and internal organ function, along with stress management and relaxation techniques.


Frequently Asked Questions

What are considered “core” muscles?
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