Belly Dance Your Back Pain Away

Belly dance can be an effective if unconventional way to help your lower back pain, while getting some exercise and improving your posture. Plus, it’s fun! Read on.

Exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle. For people with back pain or spine issues, the right exercise can make a significant difference. It can increase strength and flexibility, help with pain management, improve posture, and help maintain spine alignment. It can assist with recovery in many ways, as well as being good for overall health.

Belly dance back painBelly dancing encourages back-friendly posture and movement. Give it a shot if you're looking for a new form of exercise.

But for many people, the trouble with exercise is that it gets boring. We all know that we should do it, but it can be hard to stay interested and motivated. Looking into alternative forms of exercise can be the answer. One that has grown in popularity and can be beneficial for people with back and spine issues is belly dance.

Now, don’t worry – no one’s asking you to don sequins and finger cymbals (they’re strictly optional!). This form of dance exercise doesn’t require special clothing or even a lot of space. It can be easily done at home with the help of video instruction or in a class with other like-minded individuals. And while the majority of participants are women, men actually can and do belly dance.

Belly Dance Origins

We don’t know much about the true history of belly dancing. The term “belly dance” comes from the French danse du ventre; it came into common English use in 1889, when Middle Eastern dancers performed at the Parisian Exposition Universalle.

Since that time, the dance has gone through a world of cultural changes, from being considered a cabaret and even burlesque entertainment to being recognized as an important cultural form of expression. Today, it’s a popular form of dance exercise in the United States and all over the world.

Belly Dance as Exercise

The basics of belly dance as exercise involve isometrics, posture, and muscle control. Isometric exercises work by contracting particular muscles or groups of muscles without involving the joints. These holds maintain strength and enhance stability, two things vital for anyone recovering from back injuries. 

We all know how important posture is. We’ve heard it from our mothers for our whole lives. But dance posture is different. It’s the way you hold the body to perform particular movements so that those movements are fluid, graceful, and painless.

Belly dance posture involves correct spine alignment and encourages less pressure on the joints. This kind of posture works very well for people with back problems, says Orlando belly dance instructor Melanie LaJoie, who has been an instructor for more than 40 years.

The key is doing it properly, “in proper positions aligning joints and keeping your pelvis straight in ‘neutral’ position, where the abdominal and back muscles support a straight spine, alleviating stress on lower lumbar,” she explains. “Also, knees should be ‘soft’ and slightly bent so as not to pull on lower back muscles.”

Lower back issues in particular can respond well to a belly dance exercise program. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation looked at how belly dance affected pain and function in women with chronic lower back pain.

The study noted that belly dance is a way to “facilitate movement and control through the trunk and pelvis,” movements that are known to influence pain in the lower back. The authors concluded that “a standardized belly dance program may positively influence pain and function in women with [chronic lower back pain].”

According to the National Health Service in the UK, a 45-minute belly dance session offers aerobic benefits, as well as improving flexibility and core strength. Core exercises—movements that train the muscles in the pelvis, abdomen, hips, and lower back—build strength and stability that protect against back pain, poor posture, and muscle injuries.

Core strength is vital for people with back issues. University Health Services at Princeton University specifically recommends it for people recovering from lumbar issues to increase stabilization of the spine.

Improving Depression and Anxiety with Belly Dance

People with back pain often experience psychological issues such as depression and anxiety. If that’s you, you may have found that your back pain affects mood, makes you feel tired, causes trouble sleeping, and has a negative effect on self-esteem.

Belly dancing can help with all of these issues. When you participate in belly dancing, you experience benefits that improve mental health and well-being. These include regaining mobility, positive body image, and enhanced social interaction (when taking classes).

Interestingly, this sets belly dancing apart from other forms of dance, which can have a negative effect on body image and self-esteem. A 2010 study made that clear, stating that “while research on various forms of dance has emphasized unhealthy body image influences, belly dance offers a counter-example, indicating broad and inclusive body image norms, lack of pressure for body image conformity, and high levels of body satisfaction among dancers.”

Fun and Healthy for All Ages

Nearly anyone, from school age to seniors, can participate in belly dance. It enhances health, assists with posture, can alleviate back pain, and strengthen both body and mind. “Dance is a creative outlet and a great way to exercise for health and fitness for all ages: young and old,” says LaJoie. “As I teach Belly Dance as a Physical Education course at Valencia College [in Orlando, FL], over these years I have explored how to teach where there is no joint pain and developed leg positions/stances  and proper posture with joint alignment that utilizes the supportive muscles for ease of movement. When everyone is in the proper position, there are no joint issues or pain.”

So get your shimmy on and consider belly dance for exercise. Whether in classes or at home with the help of online instruction, DVDs, or classes via Zoom and other video meeting apps, it’s good for you and your back. And who knows? You might find yourself in sequins before you know it!

Updated on: 10/14/20
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