- Nearly 8 in 10 Americans suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives. For many, it is chronic. Back pain is the #2 reason for doctors’ visits.
- According to a 2010 study by the World Health Organization, lower back pain is the number one cause of disability in the world. Nearly 50% of American workers complain of back pain and it is one of the most common reasons for missed work in the US.
- Americans spend over $50 billion each year trying to ease their back pain.
- But, the good news is that most back pain can be eased with regular exercise. Most cases of back pain are not caused by serious conditions such as disease, blood clots, or cancer which would require intensive medical treatment.
- A 2014 study confirmed that Pilates offers greater improvements in pain and functional ability as compared to usual care and physical activity. According to a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.
- Pilates is especially effective for low back pain because it strengthens your abdominal and back muscles and increases flexibility and balance. Susan Sorosky and colleagues in “Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine” (2008)
- Participants who practiced Pilates over a four-week period experienced more relief from their symptoms than those who went through typical treatment programs. End-of-study testing revealed that the Pilates participants had significantly lower levels of functional disability and pain intensity than the control subjects. According to a controlled study published in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy (2006)
Why Pilates is Effective
Quite simply, Pilates promotes back health. It focuses on core strength, which improves abdominal and lower back strength, balance, flexibility and posture. Pilates teaches awareness of neutral alignment of the spine and strengthening the deep postural muscles which support this alignment. Neutral alignment reduces stresses to the structures of the spine, muscle, nerve, bone, and fascia which is essential to reducing back pain.
Patients with sports injuries or pain stemming from repetitive movement or degeneration of the discs and joints are particularly likely to benefit from a Pilates program. Postural asymmetries can be improved, thus decreasing wear and tear resulting from uneven stresses on joints and discs.
Pilates improves strength, flexibility, and suppleness of the muscles of the hip and shoulder girdle. Fluid and supported movement through these joints helps prevent unnecessary torque on the vertebral column. It also teaches awareness of movements that may stress the spine, and helps people preserve neutral alignment.
As documented in a 2012 Daily Mail (UK) article, the easiest way to start a Pilates program is through large group classes offered at your commercial gym. However, in this case, the easy way is not the right way. As the woman documented in the story shared, she told her instructor about her medical issues – scoliosis and a recent pregnancy – he nodded and told her to go ahead and join the class. Several weeks later, excruciating pain sent her to the doctor, who discovered she had slipped a disc so badly, it required surgery to repair.
And herein lies the risk with Pilates as an exercise for lower back pain and other types of chronic pain. For one person, taking a gym Pilates class make do wonders. For another, a gym Pilates class may do nothing. And for another, the gym class may make things worse. The basic problem is that most Pilates group classes are not specifically designed for lower back pain, and the instructor may have no training in dealing with it. You may go to a class and be able to do all of the exercises, but some of the exercises may actually harm your back. As the Mayo Clinic advises, you should take a Pilates class specifically designed for low back pain or receive private training from a qualified instructor!
Remember – although Pilates can greatly improve back pain, it can cause back pain or injuries if done incorrectly. Precisely Pilates offers qualified instructors who are rigorously certified to teach clients with all types of medical issues.
* We recommend talking with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Though Pilates has been clinically proven to be effective in helping with lower back pain, results are not guaranteed.