Pilates and the Effects on Pain
We’ve all been told that we should do Pilates. Everybody says how good it is for your back. However, is there actual proof that Pilates helps low back and general musculoskeletal pain?
A lot of people I know have said how much it’s helped them. I could probably list at least 10. For me, that’s enough evidence in itself. But for some, actual empirical data is needed. So without further ado, here is my mini literature review on Pilates and its effects on pain levels.
What is Pilates?
The Pilates method involves core strengthening, postural control and coordination breathing with movement. The core muscles are defined as the deep, internal muscles of the abdominals and back that help to stabilize your torso.
The method was developed by Joseph Pilates in the early to mid 1900s. It encourages conscious use of the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles to support and stabilise the low back region. The aim is to improve standing and moving postures. It also uses low impact, often balance-based exercises to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility.
What kind of exercise is Pilates?
Pilates can be a good strength training workout, but it isn’t aerobic exercise. You’ll need to supplement it with aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking, running, biking or swimming.
In a study in 2006, 49 people with chronic low back pain were randomly allocated to either a control or Pilates group. The Pilates group undertook a 6 week programme of Pilates. After a questionnaire-based assessment, improvements in general and a significant decrease in pain was seen in the Pilates group. No differences were seen in the control group .
In another study, 39 subjects with chronic lower back pain between 20-55 years old completed a 4 week Pilates programme. There was a significantly lower pain intensity outcomes after intervention in the Pilates group compared to the control. The decreased pain levels continued over a 12 month follow up period .
50 women with fibromyalgia took part in a study where they were randomly assigned to two groups – one completed 12 weeks of Pilates and the other completed a stretching programme . In the Pilates group, a significant improvement in pain was seen at week 12, but not after 24 weeks. No improvement was seen in the stretch group.
A study from 2017 involved 36 participants. The first group completed a 6 week course of Pilates. And the other group did nothing. The results showed the Pilates group to have reduced pain and greater improvement in general health .
Many therapists, health practitioners and doctors say regular Pilates practise can help improve posture, muscle tone, balance and joint mobility, as well as relieve stress and tension. As you can see from the above studies, research has shown Pilates to improve general health and levels of pain.
1. Gladwell V, Head S, Haggar M, Beneke R. Does a program of Pilates improve chronic non-specific low back pain? J Sport Rehabil. 2006;15:338–35
2. Rydeard R, Leger A, Smith D. Pilates-based therapeutic exercise: effect on subjects with nonspecific chronic low back pain and functional disability: a randomized controlled trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2006;36:472–484.
3. Altan L, Korkmaz N, Bingol U, Gunay B. Effect of pilates training on people with fibromyalgia syndrome: A pilot study. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2009;90:1983–8. [PubMed]
4. Hasanpour-Dehkordi A, et al. A Comparison of the Effects of Pilates and McKenzie Training on Pain and General Health in Men with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Trial. Indian J Palliat Care. 2017 Jan-Mar;23(1):36-40. doi: 10.4103/0973-1075.197945.