Problem solving Pilates: what’s your problem?

Asha Pandya-Sharpe explains why Pilates could help you avoid back and neck pain working as a dentist.

Since learning about the Alexander technique, have you used it? No, me neither.

It’s a way of moving which aims to prevent injury by improving posture and changing bad habits (Brennan, 2016).

Not many of us however are able to continuously think about the way we move, before we move, every time we want to move.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve been able to implement the technique, you make a conscious effort to avoid hunching, or whether or not you wear loupes, the fact of the matter is, as dentists, we need to see! So we spend a lot of our time in a chair looking down.

Consequently, according to the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 70% of dentists suffer from back pain (Gaowgzeh et al, 2015).

Is it your back, your neck, your shoulders? What’s your problem?

Exercises to save your back

During a work experience placement I attended prior to dental school, the dentist I shadowed looked at me and sighed: ‘Save your back, start Pilates young’.

As a fit and healthy 18-year-old I didn’t take much notice of this until I started clinic during my second year of university. I had only been treating patients for two months when the pains began – my neck ached. I decided to join Bristol University’s Pilates society and quickly became hooked. I’ve seen improvements in my posture, muscle tone, balance, and best of all, no back pain!

Pilates was initially developed by Joseph Pilates during World War I to encourage bed-bound patients to develop muscle tone, (2018) says. It has since become a globally respected method to help people with injury prevention and recovery.

Over the years I’ve learned a number of exercises that have been tremendously helpful for my back. Here, I’ve listed a selection of toning as well as stretching moves to help keep you pain-free in the clinic (so you may want to hide a yoga mat somewhere in the surgery!).

1. Roll down Why? Relieves back tension and increases mobility of the spine and neck
  1. Feet hip-width apart
  2. Spine in neutral
  3. Arms relaxed
  4. Knees slightly bent
  5. Tuck your chin into your chest
  6. Bend your shoulders forward
  7. Roll down vertebra by vertebra until your arms are as close to the floor as possible ( (1), 2019)

Progress: try and touch your feet (don’t worry if you can’t).

Breathing technique is a vital component of Pilates. Take deep breaths in through the nose encouraging the air to the side of your ribs. Exhale through your mouth. Please watch videos and other appropriate resources or get started with an instructor before trying the moves to ensure good technique.

Pilates is all about small movements – it may not feel like strenuous exercise, but remember, the longer you hold a position for and the more repetitions you do, the harder it becomes. Try it for yourself!

2. Torso twists Why? Relieves tension and encourages spinal mobility
  1. Sit up tall on your chair
  2. Place your hands behind your head
  3. Ensure your pelvis stays pointing toward the front as you twist your torso and head to one side of the room
  4. Twist back to centre
  5. Twist to the other side of the room ( (2), 2019).

Progress: ‘supine spinal twists’

3. Bridge Why? Strengthens the glutes and hamstrings

  1. Lie on the mat with your arms by your sides and your knees bent
  2. Tuck your pelvis in toward your bellybutton
  3. Hold tension in your glutes whilst you slowly raise your hips off of the floor vertebra by vertebra until you’re in a line
  4. Tense your abs and slowly roll down back onto the mat vertebra by vertebra ( (3), 2019).
4. Kneeling superman Why? Builds whole-body strength by utilising your abs, traps and glutes

  1. Kneel on all fours and maintain a flat back (no arching or curving)
  2. Engage your abdominal muscles
  3. Raise one arm up to shoulder height and simultaneously raise the opposite leg so that it is in line with the rest of your body
  4. Lower them both and repeat with the other arm and leg (, 2018).

Progress: raise ipsilateral limbs as opposed to contralateral limbs


Brennan R (2016) Alexander Technique: An Introductory Guide to Natural Poise for Health and Well-Being. La Vergne: Pavillion Books 153

Gaowgzeh RA, Chevidikunnan MF, Al Saif A, El-Gendy S, Karrouf G and Al Senany S (2015) Prevalence of and risk factors for low back pain among dentists. J Phys Ther Sci 27(9): 2803-6 – comments (2018) accessed 18/6/19 (2018) accessed 18/6/19 (1) (2019) accessed 18/6/19 (2) (2019) accessed 18/6/19 – step-by-step-instructions (3) (2019) accessed 18/6/19

Asha Pandya-Sharpe

Asha Pandya-Sharpe

Author at Young Dentist

Asha Pandya-Sharpe is a fourth year dental student at the University of Bristol. She has been practising Pilates for three years and has been the vice president of the university’s Pilates society for the past two consecutive years. She is keen to explore the impact of Pilates on people’s health and well being.

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