Those of us who teach and practice Pilates know for a fact what research is just starting to uncover. Pilates exercises help to ease both acute and chronic lower back pain. Since according to the NIH, back pain is the most common cause of work-related disability in the US, this finding is huge.
Researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario decided to look at a small group of 39 participants, all active adults (age 20-55) with chronic lower back pain. Each person was assigned to either a Pilates exercise group, or a control group that went through the standard intake and treatment protocols for lower back pain. The Pilates group exercised using Pilates apparatus, which uses springs for resistance. They did not just do the mat exercises. In post-study testing, the Pilates participants reported significantly less pain and dysfunction than the control group. In fact, they were able to maintain their results one year later. That’s right, less low back pain and better physical function with Pilates exercise.
Joseph Pilates (1880-1967) developed exercises to work on the stability and flexibility of the spine and every joint in the body. He saw early on the importance of the “Powerhouse” — the abdominal, back, shoulder, buttocks, and upper thigh muscles that help both stabilize and move us. This is more expansive than the “Core” we hear about today.
Functional Pilates exercise
Pilates exercises are also very functional, which means the movements you learn in the Pilates studio translate to daily life. For example, the Pilates footwork on the Universal Reformer is basically a series of squats done supine against spring resistance. This movement is then done seated against spring resistance on a High Chair or Wunda Chair, which makes it harder to stabilize the back and pelvis. And then the move is done standing, first against a wall for support, and later using weights or springs to challenge balance.
Squatting is a major life skill, and is a place where many people hurt their backs. We squat to sit down and stand up, as well as to pick things up, sometime heavy things. Pilates teaches how to do this properly against resistance so we don’t hurt our backs. Pilates is not just for models and celebrities who want to look great. Pilates is the perfect exercise method to help ease low back pain.