Pilates Good for Low Back Pain

By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times

Pilates was found to be as effective for easing lower back pain as a general exercise program, a study found.

Low back pain affects millions of people, and in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Health, United States 2006” report, low back pain was among the most common pain-related complaints. But as the authors in this study reported, there is
debate about which is better for pain relief: general exercise or specific, individually prescribed workouts.

Australian researchers randomly assigned 44 people to a Pilates program and 43 people to a general exercise regimen for six weeks. All ranged in age from 18 to 70 and had experienced chronic lower back pain for at least three months. Overall the study participants were slightly overweight, had a long history of back pain and about a third were taking medication for their condition.

Both exercise programs were held twice a week for an hour, and lasted six weeks. Both were supervised, but the Pilates group received individualized instruction based on their needs that included exercises on the reformer and trapeze equipment and emphasized exercise movement precision, breathing control, trunk stability and posture alignment.

The regular exercise group were given generic workouts that included cardiovascular exercise, stretching, strength training and body toning and resistance. Participants in both groups were also given exercises to do on their own at home.

They received questionnaires at six, 12 and 24 weeks that pertained to pain and function and general health-related quality of life.

After six weeks both groups showed substantial improvements in pain and disability compared with the beginning of the study, although the Pilates group had a slight edge over the general exercise group.

At the beginning of the study researchers thought the Pilates group might see more improvements than the regular exercise group. The comparable results, they said, could be due to the fact that some people with low back pain may respond better to Pilates exercises than others, but the groups were too similar to note differences. Also, since both exercise regimens involved back exercises they might have been too much alike.

The study was published online recently in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.