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7 Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain to Help Relieve Tension

Pilates exercises for lower back pain

Low back pain is extremely common. Pilates is a good way to relieve pain and tension. Try these 7 Pilates exercises for lower back pain.

It’s thought 4 out of 5 of us experience lower back pain at some point in our lives. In fact, such a large number of people need lower back pain relief that it accounts for 9% of all adult GP visits in the UK. For some of us, lower back pain could be a simple ache that improves quickly. However, for others, it can be a much longer-term problem. For more information on treating low back pain check out our webinar Advice, Exercises and Treatment for Low Back Pain.

Several research studies have suggested that Pilates can be effective for relieving lower back pain. The benefits of doing Pilates include improved core strength, increased muscle strength and flexibility and improved posture. It’s also been found to be good for helping to manage pain. This article features a number of Pilates exercises for lower back pain taken from Pilates for Rehabilitation.

Research into using Pilates for injury rehabilitation

Over the last fifteen years, a lot of research has been published that recommends Pilates as an effective form of treatment for injury rehabilitation. It’s also recommended by doctors on a regular basis. One study (Natour et. al, 2015) concluded that Pilates was effective in reducing pain and improving function and quality of life in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain. Another study (Oliveira et. al 2016) found that the Pilates method was also effective for improving muscle resistance and strength, flexibility, postural balance and pain in patients with traumatic spondylolisthesis at L4-L5.

These research studies, along with others provide evidence that Pilates can be effective in injury rehabilitation. Although there isn’t a massive amount of research on Pilates specifically for injury rehabilitation, more is being published every year.

Pilates exercises for lower back pain

Several of the research studies outlined above recommend the use of Pilates as a method of choice for patients with low back pain. Depending on the cause of the pain, specific exercise prescription may vary. It’s worth mentioning that lower back pain can be caused by various conditions. These range from simple stiffness due to poor posture to more serious conditions like herniated discs. If you have persistent or recurring back pain seek advice from a doctor before doing these exercises. These Pilates exercises for lower back pain have been taken from Pilates for Rehabilitation.

Pelvic Curl

The pelvic curl is usually one of the first exercises taught to patients. It’s relatively simple but also shows how to use the abdominal muscles in a way that supports and lengthens the back. This exercise specifically uses the abdominals, hamstrings and gluteus maximus.

Pilates-exercises-for-lower-back-pain
Pelvic Curl
  1. Lie supine with the knees bent and feet flat on the mat, hip-width apart. Place the arms by the sides with the palms facing down. Relax your neck, shoulders and lower back.
  2. Inhale to prepare, exhale to set the core and slowly curl the pelvis and spine off the mat, one vertebra at a time.
  3. Inhale and hold at the top. The pelvis should be at maximum posterior tilt and a stretch should be in the hip flexors.
  4. Finally, exhale and slowly lower the trunk. Roll down one vertebra at a time, returning to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the sequence ten times.

Single-Leg Lifts

The single-leg lift is done with the spine in a neutral position. It’s a great exercise for patients lacking pelvic stability or core awareness. Lifting one leg in the sagittal plane as the other is on the mat begins to challenge the core in a functional way, similar to walking. The exercise works the abdominals and hip-flexors.

Single Leg Lifts - Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain
Single Leg Lifts
  1. Lie supine with bent knees, parallel legs, relaxed arms at the sides with the palms down and a neutral pelvis position.
  2. Exhale and raise one leg until the knee is above the hip joint and the thigh perpendicular to the mat.
  3. Inhale and return to the starting position by lowering the leg to the mat.
  4. Repeat the exercise five times with the same leg. Place the foot fully down on the mat.
  5. Perform the same sequence with the opposite leg.

Chest Lift

Low back pain can occur for a number of reasons, one being weak abdominal muscles. Although this exercise might look similar to a sit-up or crunch, the emphasis is on the engagement of the transversus abdominis (TrA) and pelvic stability. Momentum, pulling or tension in the neck area and overuse of the hip flexors are all eliminated.

Chest Lift - Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain
Chest Lift
  1. Lie supine with the knees bent and the feet flat on the mat, hip-width apart. Interlace the fingers behind the head and bend the elbows so they point sideways.
  2. Slowly curl the head and upper trunk up, so that the shoulder blades lift off the mat and while the back portion of the waistline stays in contact with the mat.
  3. Inhale, drawing the abdominals in even deeper as the height of the trunk is maintained and pause.
  4. Exhale to lower the head and chest back to the starting position without releasing the abdominals.
  5. Repeat the sequence ten times.

Supine Spine Twist

The supine spine twist is great for anyone lacking spinal mobility. It helps to strengthen the oblique muscles. The rotation of the exercise also helps to stretch your back muscles.

Supine Spine Twist - Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain
Supine Spine Twist
  1. Lie supine, with the legs in a tabletop position so the knees are directly above the hip joints and the lower legs are parallel to the mat. Have the arms in a T position with the palms facing up. Make sure the lumbar spine is pressing into the mat.
  2. Exhale and pull the abdominal wall in and perform a slight posterior pelvis tilt. Gently pull the inner thighs together.
  3. Inhale and rotate the spine and move the pelvis, lowering the legs to one side.
  4. Exhale and rotate back to centre.
  5. Inhale and rotate the spine and move the pelvis, lowering the legs to the other side.
  6. Finally, exhale and return to centre.
  7. Repeat the sequence five times on each side.

Shoulder Bridge Prep

This exercise is good for challenging lumbar stabilisation, as well as for strengthening the glutes. Maintaining the height and stability of the pelvis as one leg lifts can be challenging.

Shoulder Bridge Prep - Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain
Shoulder Bridge Prep
  1. Start in the up position of the pelvic curl (as detailed above).
  2. Exhale and lift one leg up to the tabletop position, moving only at the hip joint and keeping the pelvis level.
  3. Inhale and lower the leg to tap the mat.
  4. Repeat 5 to 10 times with one leg and then switch sides.
  5. Finish the exercise by placing both feet on the mat and rolling down one vertebra at a time.

Side Bend

The side bend is great for strengthening your shoulders back and abdominals. However, it’s quite an advanced exercise as only the feet and one arm are supporting the rest of the body. This exercise works the oblique abdominals, quadratus lumborum, gluteus medius and the scapular stabilisers.

Side Bend- Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain Shoulder Bridge Prep - Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain
Side Bend
  1. Sit sideways on the mat with the weight on one hip.
  2. Press the palm of the supporting arm into the mat with the fingers pointing away from the body.
  3. Bend the legs and place the top foot in front of the bottom foot.
  4. Rest the top arm along the side of the body.
  5. Inhale as the pelvis lifts away from the mat, straightening both legs and raising the top arm to 90 degrees of shoulder abduction.
  6. Exhale as the pelvis lifts higher into a laterally flexed position and the top arm reaching overhead.
  7. Inhale to return to the previous position, then exhale to lower down to the starting position.
  8. Repeat 5 to 10 times, then switch to the other side.

Basic Back Extension

The last of our pilates exercises for lower back pain is basic back extension. It’s a simple yet effective exercise for strengthening the often weak back extensor muscles. It also helps develop control of the core muscles. The basic back extension works the back extensors and abdominals.

Basic Back Extension - Pilates Exercises for Lower Back Pain
Basic Back Extension
  1. Lie prone with the forehead resting on a small cushion or small rolled-up towel.
  2. Arms should be by the sides with the palms pressing in against straight legs and drawing down toward flexed feet.
  3. Set the core muscles, both upper and lower.
  4. Inhale and maintain this connection as the head and upper back lift slightly off the mat, sequentially from top to bottom.
  5. Hold at the top for a couple of breath cycles (depending on ability).
  6. Exhale to lower to the starting position, sequentially from bottom to top.
  7. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

How to do Pilates exercises for lower back pain

  1. Pelvic Curl

    Usually one of the first exercises taught to Pilates beginners. Shows you how to use the abdominals to lengthen and support the back.

  2. Single-Leg Lift

    An exercise that’s done with the spine in a neutral position. It’s a great exercise for patients lacking pelvic stability or core awareness.

  3. Chest Lift

    Helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles. Although it looks similar to a sit-up or crunch, the emphasis is on the engagement of the transversus abdominis (TrA) and pelvic stability.

  4. Supine Spine Twist

    This exercise is great for anyone lacking spinal mobility. It helps to strengthen the oblique muscles, as well as stretch the back muscles.

  5. Shoulder Bridge Prep

    Great for challenging lumbar stabilisation, as well as strengthening the glutes.

  6. Side Bend

    The side bend is good for strengthening the shoulders, back and abdominals.

  7. Basic Back Extension

    Simple yet effective exercise for strengthening the often weak back extensor muscles. It also helps develop control of the core muscles.

Adapted from:

Pilates for Rehabilitation

Samantha Wood

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Hi, I’m Hannah, marketing assistant and one of the bloggers here at Human Kinetics Europe. I wasn’t blessed with the coordination to play most sports, but that’s not stopped me becoming a great watcher of them. Particularly when it comes to football! So I’m here to bring you all you need to know about exciting new product releases and the latest in sport, fitness and PE.

4 Comments

  1. Heather Shaw says

    Lower back pain can be caused by a large variety of conditions from something as simple as stiffness due to poor posture to more serious conditions like herniated discs. Although these exercises seem simple and safe, some of them like the side bend and supine twisting could actually make things worse. Thus if you have persistent back pain always see a doctor before starting any type of exercise.

    • Hannah Ellerton says

      Hi Heather, this is a great point and something that should be considered. We’ll add it into the blog!

  2. Daniel@Chairs Advisor says

    Great article about lower back pain. Exercise is really an effective method to reduce back pain. Thank you.

  3. Amazing post and great exercises. Thank you for the detailed explanation on each exercise. Helps a lot.

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