Pilates is the Best Exercise for Lower Back Pain

If you’ve ever experienced lower back pain (LBP), you know how debilitating it can be. In fact, lower back pain is a major health problem worldwide; 90 percent of us will experience at least one episode of lower back pain in our lives!

The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent and manage your symptoms and Pilates is one of the best exercises for helping to alleviate lower back pain.

Contributing Factors to Lower Back Pain

When it comes to lower back pain, there are many factors that can contribute to the problem. These include poor posture, muscle imbalances, and joint dysfunction. Sometimes the cause of back pain isn’t the back at all but rather an imbalance in the hips or pelvis. Over time, our unconscious habits like sinking into one hip while standing or crossing one leg over the other while seated can cause back pain.

Pilates exercises are designed to counteract and address these postural imbalances by strengthening muscles around your spine and pelvis. This helps keep your spine healthy and strong so you can avoid lower back pain in the future.

Why Are More and More of us Experiencing LBP?

The incidence of back pain is rising because of our sedentary lifestyles and increased dependence on technology. Conditions such as arthritis and even depression and anxiety can predispose someone to back pain.

Lower back pain can be caused by various conditions. These range from simple stiffness due to poor posture to more serious conditions. Recommendations include Pilates as an effective form of treatment for relieving lower back pain. One study study (Natour et. al, 2015)  concluded that Pilates was effective in reducing pain and improving function and quality of life in patients with chronic nonspecific lower back pain.

If you’re looking for a new exercise to help with your lower back pain, Pilates is the way to go.

A recent study (Oliveira et. al 2016) found that the Pilates method was also effective for improving muscle resistance and strength, flexibility, postural balance and pain in patients with traumatic spondylolisthesis at L4-L5.

Pilates helps to strengthen your core muscles, which help support your spine. It also improves your posture by strengthening the muscles around your hips and pelvis.

In addition, over the past few years, the Pilates method has been one of the most popular exercise programs used in clinical practice. Pilates, McKenzie therapy and functional restoration were found to be more effective for pain outcomes and functional limitations than other types of exercise treatment (Hayden 2021).

Several of the research studies outlined above recommend the use of Pilates as a method of choice for patients with lower back pain. Depending on the cause of the pain, specific exercise prescription may vary. It is suggested that Pilates exercises in patients with Chronic Non-specific LBP should be performed during supervised sessions with a duration of 30–60 min and a frequency of two sessions per week with a duration from 3 to 6 months.

What is the Pilates Method?

The Pilates method is a concept of body and mind exercises founded by Joseph H Pilates in the early 1900s. These exercises can be performed with or without specialised equipment following six basic principles: centering, concentration, control, precision, flow, breathing and posture.

When evaluating the Pilates method and analysing its effectiveness, the emphasis on correct breathing, mental focus, motor learning, individualized exercises and total core control cannot be parceled out. An exercise must be executed correctly to master the precision and flow and ultimately, the transference to functional activities.

Mind over Matter Concept

The mind over matter concept is the central element of the Pilates method. The goal is to fuse the mind and body so that without thinking, the body uses the greatest mechanical advantage to achieve optimal balance, strength and health.

Core stabilization has become a staple in most rehabilitation setting. Several studies suggest that the transversus abdominis, diaphragm, pelvic floor and multifidus are the key muscles to stabilize the lumbar spine. Research indicates that no single core muscle can be identified as most important for lumbar spine stability and that stabilisation exercises may be most effective when they engage the entire spinal musculature under various loading conditions.

To optimally train the core, development of muscular endurance over core muscular strength is recommended in preventing and rehabilitating lower back injuries. This research provides the scientific basis to substantiate the Pilates approach to core training.

Pilates exercises emphasize on alignment of body posture, which means adequate adjustment of the head, shoulder and pelvic girdle in neutral position with maintaining spine curvatures as well as axial position of the lower limbs and symmetrical weight-bearing of the feet in standing position to perform the exercises.

An Integrated Whole Body Activity

Pilates emphasizing posture as an integrated whole body activity can help with lower back pain. Good posture requires the engagement of the deep abdominal and low back muscles to stabilize the spine. The Pilates method uses controlled movements to lengthen and strengthen the muscles, improving both posture and alignment.

A biological explanation put forward to explain how Pilates exercises might work suggests that the stability and control of spinal muscles may be impaired in people living with LBP. It is proposed that two motor control issues arise from this: firstly, a lag in deep muscle activity such as multifidus and transversus abdominis when the spine is stressed during dynamic tasks, and secondly an effort to substitute for the lack of stability via heightened superficial muscle activation that increases stiffness. The Pilates technique contains elements meant to address these two elements (i.e. improve the stability of the spine by improving the control of deep muscles and reduce activity in superficial muscles), along with body awareness and better posture, which could all result in reduced pain, disability and improved quality of life in those afflicted by LBP.

Pilates recognized that motor functions of the brain control the mobility and stability of the body, activating muscles in a functional sequence at controlled speeds and emphasizing quality, precision and control of movement.

Through regular practice, you can relax, control your mind, enhance your body and self-awareness, improve core stability, coordination and posture, develop uniform muscle development, and reduce stress.

Once you begin to practice Pilates at BPS, you will automatically begin to implement healthier movement patterns into your daily activities such as unloading groceries from the car or picking up a toddler. Pilates increases awareness of proper spinal alignment and good posture, so if you feel yourself starting to slump, hunch or dump into one hip, you can correct it in the moment. Think of a Pilates practice as an antidote to our modern lifestyles.

Movement is Medicine

Pilates can help you fix the problem (harmful movement patterns) as well as alleviate the symptoms (back pain and discomfort). Although it may seem tempting to sit on the sidelines when you suffer from back pain, it becomes a vicious cycle, compounding the problem.

Many instructors subscribe to the maxim “movement is medicine” and we believe you should too!