Expert Blog

Pilates and pain


Core exercise, concentration and centering – if you practice Pilates, you’re probably familiar with these ideas. For those who aren't so familiar, Pilates is a strengthening workout that also helps with flexibility and endurance.  While some forms of Pilates use an apparatus, others simply consist of mat exercises. What they have in common is a focus on the body’s core muscles – abdominals, lower back, hips and thighs (aka. The Powerhouse). 

Pilates is a scalable exercise; this means that the intensity and activity can be customized to an individual’s limitations or goals. Because Pilates is low-impact and can help build muscle, it’s a great option for those who are trying to get back into exercising – but what about those who are suffering from pain?  A recent study took a look at how Pilates can be used by those with chronic lower back pain.

What kind of research was done?

In June, 2014, a randomized controlled trial looked at 60 patients who were diagnosed with chronic lower back pain. These patients were divided into two groups:
  1. The Experimental Group: This group continued using their prescribed non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) but added regular Pilates into their routine. 
  2. The Control Group: This group also continued using their NSAIDs, but didn't add the Pilates. 

A researcher, or ‘blinded assessor’, then evaluated the 60 patients. (Here, the term ‘blind’ refers to the fact that the assessor doesn’t know which group each patient belonged to. This way, their evaluations of each patient are done without bias.) Each patient was measured for pain, function, quality of life and flexibility at the beginning and end of the trial.  

What were the results?

The results showed statistical differences favouring the Experimental Group – meaning that the Pilates has a positive effect on these patients. The research showed improvements for this group in terms of pain, function, quality of life and vitality. The research also found that patients in the Experimental Group ended up taking fewer NSAIDs than the Control Group.  

The bottom line

  • Pilates can help reduce chronic lower back pain and improve quality of life for individuals – with no harmful risks. 
  • Pilates is a great, low-impact way to build strength and get some exercise for those dealing with chronic pain.


Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Pilates for beginners: Explore the core [updated 2014 Feb 5; cited 2014 Oct 10]. Available from: 

Natour J, Cazotti LD, 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. Clin Rehabil. 2014 Jun 25. pii: 0269215514538981. [Epub ahead of print]