Pilates and Lower Back Pain

Back pain is a major health issue in our country.  It is estimated that 60-80% of adults will experience low back pain (LBP) at some point in their lives and low back pain accounts for millions of dollars in health care costs.  According to research studies, core stabilization programs have been shown to significantly reduce chronic LBP by 39-76% and muscular strengthening programs can reduce it by 61.6%.  According to recent research studies, Pilates was found to significantly improve back pain, as well as hamstring and low back flexibility for patients diagnosed with non-specific chronic low back pain. 

The Pilates method of exercise was developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900's when he was interned in England.  He named his exercise "Contrology" and defined it as "complete coordination of body, mind and spirit."  The focus of his exercises was on developing the core stabilizing muscles of the abdomen, which then provided the rest of the body the ability to move freely and with increased ease and flexibility. 

Today, Pilates exercises are taught in a variety of settings including; private studios, gyms and even physical therapy facilities.  

Benefits of Pilates:

  • Mind-body workout
  • Development of a strong core
  • Improves overall flexibility
  • Increases postural awareness
  • Creates a more balanced and efficient body through the use of whole body activation
  • Gentle, low impact activity which can be modified for all different individuals

 Pilates exercises emphasize core stabilization training and proper recruitment of the transversus abdominis, oblique muscles, multifidus, and pelvic floor muscles.  The transversus abdominis and internal oblique muscles attach to the thoracolumbar fascia and help to increase the stiffness of the tissue, which helps to enhance core stability.  These muscles also help the spine to resist various stresses which aides in reducing low back pain.  Pilates exercises also stress proper breathing techniques, as well as, correct spinal and pelvic alignment by teaching the client a neutral spine position and improving postural awareness.  Exercises are performed with a strong emphasis on the quality of the movement, proper control and coordination of whole body movements. 

As with any exercise program, before starting it is best to ensure that the instructor is certified in the Pilates exercise method and has an understanding of specific back problems.  It is also best to start with several one-on-one sessions, in order to learn proper form and technique for the exercises. 

Talk to your PT today about whether Pilates is right for you!

Jennifer Buono, PT, DPT and certified Pilates instructor



Siler, Brooke.  Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge. New York, 2006.

www.mdpi.com/journal/healthcare : A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain (2016).


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