I get asked about Pilates for lower back pain all the time and it’s not hard to work out why. Low back pain is the most common musculoskeletal problem that people experience globally (1). With such a high prevalence of lower back pain, many seek out treatments and Pilates is high on the list.
So, let’s discuss.
Can Pilates Help Back Pain?
In short, yes, but it’s different for everyone. Working clinically as a physiotherapist and Pilates instructor for many years, I have seen the incredible effects that Pilates can have on a person’s experience with low back pain. The current evidence is overwhelmingly positive when it comes to strength exercises such as Pilates and low back pain. In fact, exercising two to three times a week will reduce your risk of low back pain (2). Sounds good, hey?
What Causes Low Back Pain?
The cause of low back pain is multifactorial and while many would like to pinpoint the cause of their pain and label it, the fact is that low back pain is usually a result of many factors - including emotional, social and physical factors.
You see, pain is an experience and can be impacted by an injury, but can also be impacted by a person’s mental health. For example, pain is experienced more severely in people with depression (3). If you want to learn more about pain, I recommend reading Explain Pain by Butler and Moseley as it’s fascinating.
But, I digress. Pilates can create physical changes to a person’s body by building targeted strength, flexibility and endurance but it can also create changes to mental wellbeing. Both of these factors can simultaneously impact the experience of pain.
Benefits of Pilates for Back Pain
1. Build Strength In Supporting Muscles
Pilates is a wonderful way to build strength throughout the body. It has a large focus on strengthening both the deep stabilising muscles that lie closest to the spine and also in the more superficial muscles that lie closer to the skin. You may have heard of the transversus abdominis and the multifidus muscles, they are often spoken about as the “core muscles' that support the low back as they lie deep in the body and wrap around the trunk. In Pilates, there is a strong focus on strengthening these muscles and these types of stabilisation exercises have been shown to reduce pain in those with chronic low back pain (4).
Exercises like abdominal curls, glute bridges, squats and roll downs are all Pilates exercises targeting layers of muscles that support and stabilise the spine and help us move freely!
2. The Power Of Mindful Pilates
We learnt earlier that experiencing back pain can be impacted by our mental health. Well, exercise can have a powerful impact on our mental health, improving anxiety, self esteem and confidence (5).
Pilates (more specifically, Pilates with me) is fun! It allows you to enjoy movement, to be present within your body and practice the powerful benefits of mindfulness. By connecting movement with your breath, you are able to focus on your body on the mat, which can help let go of other thoughts. Practicing Pilates consistently can help you feel strong, empowered and confident, which can impact your experience of pain.
So, Should You Try Pilates For Back Pain?
Put simply, yes you should. Pilates can be so powerful at helping you enjoy movement while building functional strength in the body to help with low back pain. Make sure you always listen to the cues your body gives you, know you can always rest, and have fun! See a list of the best Pilates workouts for back pain below.
I recommend seeking out advice from a Physiotherapist or Doctor for individualised advice regarding low back pain.
Here are some of our favourite Pilates classes that can help with low back pain: