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Navigating Pilates with a Prolapsed Disc: A Teacher's Guide


Anatomy in Focus: Detailed View of Prolapsed Discs
Exploring the Spine: Anatomical Model of Intervertebral Discs

As Pilates teachers, we encounter clients with a variety of physical conditions, one of which may be a prolapsed disc. I personally understand the challenges associated with this condition, as I have a prolapsed disc in the L4 and L5 regions, a common area for this issue. However, it's important to remember that prolapsed discs can occur anywhere in the spine and may sometimes involve multiple discs.


Understanding Prolapsed Discs

A prolapsed disc occurs when the gel-like substance inside a spinal disc leaks into the spinal canal. This can cause a range of symptoms, such as pain, numbness, and muscle weakness, depending on the disc's location. Lumbar spine prolapses often lead to sciatica, characterized by pain radiating to the buttocks, legs, and feet. Cervical spine prolapses can cause neck pain, shoulder pain, and muscle spasms​​​​.


Managing Prolapsed Discs in Pilates

Pilates can be beneficial for those with prolapsed discs, but it's crucial to approach exercises with caution. Certain movements, such as the roll-up and rolling series, and loaded flexion, are not recommended due to the risk of exacerbating the condition. Instead, focus on exercises that maintain a neutral spine position, like modified versions of the hundred, single leg stretch, and scissors, keeping the head in a neutral position to avoid flexion​​.


Teaching Considerations

When teaching clients with a long-standing prolapsed disc, remember that they may have significant tension and muscle imbalances. Cueing the center, especially focusing on the pelvic floor, can be beneficial, but be mindful of not over-tightening an already tense area. Incorporating mobility work, such as shoulder bridges and the cat-cow exercise, is essential. These exercises should be executed with a focus on controlled movement and spine lengthening.


Lifestyle Adaptations

Encourage clients to integrate Pilates principles into their daily lives, especially if their job involves prolonged sitting. Advise them on maintaining a proper sitting posture, with the pelvis slightly higher than the knees, and to take regular breaks to stand and stretch. This helps in managing symptoms and preventing further issues.


Professional Guidance

Always remind clients to seek medical advice for a proper diagnosis and tailored treatment plan. While Pilates offers numerous benefits, it's essential to complement it with professional medical advice, particularly in cases of undiagnosed prolapsed discs​​.


The UK Perspective

In the UK, the Society for the Pilates Method has set standards to ensure the quality of Pilates education and teaching. These standards emphasise the importance of understanding the exercise repertoire and practical teaching experience, crucial for addressing special populations like those with prolapsed discs. Teachers are encouraged to pursue further qualifications focused on specific conditions like low back pain, which often accompany prolapsed discs​​.


According to the NHS, individuals with a prolapsed disc should remain active and engage in gentle exercise to aid recovery. They recommend consulting a GP for potential physiotherapy referrals and exploring alternative treatments like osteopathy for lower back pain management​

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