The research is clear: Pilates is a great way to treat and prevent back pain
Back pain is a common problem that affects about one out of three adults. It causes discomfort, lost work, reduced quality of life, and is linked to depression and other health issues. It's such a problem, we spend about $300 billion a year in the US just dealing with the medical and social costs. We spend about $90 billion on just medical costs alone.
A significant amount of the money we spend on back pain is spent on expensive medical treatments. While MRI and CT scans are increasingly being used for diagnosing back pain, the literature is clear that these results very seldom tell us anything about the root cause of the pain and increase the odds of being prescribed drugs or having surgery--known as the “medicalization” of back pain.1
In fact, the opiate epidemic in the US is linked to drug treatment of back pain. Studies have found that a significant percentage of opiate overdose patients first were prescribed pain-killers for back pain.
The Root Cause of Back Pain
The reason imaging scans aren't effective at diagnosing back pain is because the root cause of most back pain lies in core weakness and instability. Research shows that people with low back pain have significantly less core strength and stability than those without back pain.2
Our "core" consists of three parts:
- Our spinal column (The Passive System)
- The muscles of our torso (The Active System)
- The nerves that pass through the spine and control the muscles (The Neural System)
A healthy, strong, stable core3 requires all of these pieces to work together to maintain our posture and help us move efficiently and safely. If any of these parts is not functioning correctly, the other parts can't function, either. This causes stresses and strains, poor stability, and can result in injury and pain.
Recovering and Preventing Back Pain
The key to getting out of pain (and preventing it from coming back) is to restore the function of these three systems, and one of the most effective ways to do this is with Pilates.
Pilates is a series of controlled exercises and specifically work at strengthening the core. It's especially helpful for enhancing muscle strength and function, which also has the benefit of improving the neurological functioning system of the core.
Research shows that Pilates helps with back pain in 11 ways:
- Pilates is safe. One of the great things about Pilates is that the exercises can be adjusted and adapted for every client to make sure it's comfortable and customized for your pace. Your Pilates instructor will tailor your sessions to match your abilities and needs.
- Pilates gets to the root of the problem. Pilates was developed specifically to strengthen and stabilize the core.
- Pilates is effective at reducing current symptoms. Numerous recent studies4 have been done that find that Pilate is an effective way to help reduce pain and disability from back pain.
- Pilates helps prevent future episodes of back pain. Research shows that patients who regularly do Pilates have fewer recurrences of pain.5
- Pilates helps improve overall quality of life. The science shows that Pilates improves daily functioning, lung function, and helps people stay more active.6
- Pilates helps reduce disability from back pain. By building strength, stamina, and confidence, research shows that people who do Pilates have less disability from their back pain.7
- Pilates helps your overall body's function. Research shows it improves gait and neck pain issues in patients with low back pain. It's also a great way to improve balance, which is an important factor as we get older.8,9
- Pilates has been shown to be effective for teens with back pain.10
- Pilates helps reduce fear of re-injury. Kinesiophobia is the "fear of movement," and that's a factor that makes it difficult for patients to get back to activities after an injury. This fear makes it difficult for some patients to become active again, which is likely to result in long-term disability and chronic pain. Research shows that Pilates is an effective method of helping patients with kinesiophobia.7
- Pilates helps with weight loss. Carrying extra weight makes it more likely that you'll develop back pain. Research shows that Pilates helps reduce back pain in those with weight issues, plus it also works well for weight loss.11,12
- Pilates is natural. Pilates doesn't involve expensive treatment, drugs, or surgery--it's just your body moving efficiently and naturally.
You don't have to suffer from chronic back pain. Millions of people have discovered the benefits of Pilates for not only getting out of pain, but for improving overall fitness and happiness.
Learn more about the benefits of Pilates here.
- Flynn TW, Smith B, Chou R. Appropriate use of diagnostic imaging in low back pain: a reminder that unnecessary imaging may do as much harm as good. Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy 2011 Nov;41(11):838-46. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2011.3618. Epub 2011 Jun 3. Review. PubMed PMID: 21642763.
- Kato S, Murakami H, Demura S, Yoshioka K, Shinmura K, Yokogawa N, Igarashi T, Yonezawa N, Shimizu T, Tsuchiya H. Abdominal trunk muscle weakness and its association with chronic low back pain and risk of falling in older women. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2019 Jun 3;20(1):273. doi: 10.1186/s12891-019-2655-4. PubMed PMID: 31159812; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6547466.
- Panjabi MM. The stabilizing system of the spine. Part I. Function, dysfunction, adaptation, and enhancement. Journal of Spinal Disorders 1992 Dec;5(4):383-9; discussion 397. PubMed PMID: 1490034.
- da Luz MA Jr, Costa LO, Fuhro FF, Manzoni AC, Oliveira NT, Cabral CM. Effectiveness of mat Pilates or equipment-based Pilates exercises in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Physical Therapy 2014 May;94(5):623-31. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20130277. Epub 2014 Jan 16. PubMed PMID: 24435105.
- Cruz-Díaz D, Martínez-Amat A, Osuna-Pérez MC, De la Torre-Cruz MJ, Hita-Contreras F. Short- and long-term effects of a six-week clinical Pilates program in addition to physical therapy on postmenopausal women with chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Disability and Rehabilitation 2016;38(13):1300-8. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2015.1090485. Epub 2015 Oct 16. PubMed PMID: 26474232.
- Natour J, Cazotti Lde A, Ribeiro LH, Baptista AS, Jones A. Pilates improves pain, function and quality of life in patients with chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation 2015 Jan;29(1):59-68. doi: 10.1177/0269215514538981. Epub 2014 Jun 25. PubMed PMID: 24965957.
- Cruz-Díaz D, Romeu M, Velasco-González C, Martínez-Amat A, Hita-Contreras F. The effectiveness of 12 weeks of Pilates intervention on disability, pain and kinesiophobia in patients with chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation 2018 Sep;32(9):1249-1257. doi: 10.1177/0269215518768393. Epub 2018 Apr 13. PubMed PMID: 29651872.
- da Fonseca JL, Magini M, de Freitas TH. Laboratory gait analysis in patients with low back pain before and after a pilates intervention. J Sport Rehabil. 2009 May;18(2):269-82. PubMed PMID: 19561369.
- de Araujo Cazotti L, Jones A, Roger-Silva D, Ribeiro LHC, Natour J. Effectiveness of the Pilates Method in the Treatment of Chronic Mechanical Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2018 Sep;99(9):1740-1746. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2018.04.018. Epub 2018 May 9. PubMed PMID: 29752907.
- González-Gálvez N, Marcos-Pardo PJ, Carrasco-Poyatos M. Functional improvements after a pilates program in adolescents with a history of back pain: A randomised controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 2019 May;35:1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2019.01.006. Epub 2019 Jan 10. PubMed PMID: 31003644.
- Wasser JG, Vasilopoulos T, Zdziarski LA, Vincent HK. Exercise Benefits for Chronic Low Back Pain in Overweight and Obese Individuals. PM&R Journal 2017 Feb;9(2):181-192. doi: 10.1016/j.pmrj.2016.06.019. Epub 2016 Jun 23. Review. PubMed PMID: 27346092.
- Şavkin R, Aslan UB. The effect of Pilates exercise on body composition in sedentary overweight and obese women. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 2017 Nov;57(11):1464-1470. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.16.06465-3. Epub 2016 Sep 8. PubMed PMID: 27607588.