Lower back pain is the pits. Unfortunately, it's a fact of life for many people. Indeed, back problems were the third most common reason for people to see a doctor, according to a February 2023 article in StatPearls.
That's no surprise given the constant wear-and-tear our backs endure. "We put so much stress and strain on our lower backs throughout the day," says Emily McLaughlin, in-house certified fitness trainer and nutrition expert at 8fit. "Whether you're on your feet or sitting most of the day, gravity pulls us down and a compression occurs in the lower back."
Sometimes, the best medicine is movement. And perhaps no type of exercise is better suited to help deal with — or even prevent — back pain than Pilates. It strengthens, stabilizes and supports your core, including the areas near your spine and surrounding muscles, per the American Council on Exercise. Since your abs and back are complementary body parts, strengthening one benefits the other.
Simply put, "a stronger core means a stronger back," McLaughlin says. While research in this area is still preliminary, some small studies show that Pilates may be helpful in relieving low back pain.
For example, a small June 2014 study in Clinical Rehabilitation found that people with chronic lower back issues who practiced Pilates reported less pain and a better quality of life compared to those who relied on medication alone to relieve their symptoms.
In addition, a small January-March 2018 study in the Brazilian Journal of Pain comparing the effects of Pilates and physical therapy exercises on low back pain found that Pilates was just as effective in providing relief in those with this condition.
Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.
A 20-Minute Pilates Routine for Lower-Back Pain
This 20-minute routine, demonstrated by Laura Wilson, Pilates instructor and founder of Natural Pilates, will get you started on the right road to a pain-free lower back.
Do each of these exercises in order, repeating the circuit for 4 to 5 rounds, resting for 1 minute in between.
1. The Hundred
- Lie on your back with your legs extended, feet together and arms by your side.
- Press your lower back into floor, tuck your chin to your chest and curl your and shoulders off the floor.
- Lift your legs to a 45-degree angle and reach your arms long, so your hands are past your hips.
- Gently pump your arms up and down.
- Inhale for 5 counts, then exhale for 5 counts, pressing your lower belly down into the spine.
- Repeat this movement pattern 10 times for a total of 100.
If you aren't able to extend your legs to a 45-degree angle, bend your knees.
2. Roll Up
- Start by lying on the ground, arms overhead and feet flexed. Bring your arms straight up over the shoulders.
- Then, exhaling, tuck the chin and begin to sit up by engaging the core.
- Reach the hands towards the toes, engaging the glutes and hamstrings to keep the feet grounded. Make sure to maintain the C-curve in your spine.
- Reverse the movement and return to starting position on an inhale.
- Repeat for 60 seconds.
3. Single-Leg Bent Knee Stretch
- Start lying down. Pull the right knee into the chest and curl the upper back off the floor.
- Lift the left leg off the ground, then switch legs, pulling the left knee in and straightening the right leg out, letting it hover above the ground. Keep your gaze ahead or toward your lifted knee.
- Repeat for 30 seconds, exhaling every time you pull a knee in.
4. Double-Leg Stretch
- Start lying on your back with your knees pulled into your chest and upper back lifted off the floor.
- Inhale, then exhale and extend your arms overhead and your legs long.
- Hold that position for a second before exhaling back to the starting position.
- Repeat for 30 seconds.
5. Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart.
- Lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees and squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Lower your hips down from the top of your spine to the bottom.
- Repeat for 30 seconds.
When you do your glute bridge, press your weight into your heels as you raise your hips. This helps activate and strengthen your glute muscles.
6. Triple Crunch
- Start lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted hip-width apart on the mat.
- With your hands by your ears, exhale and lift your upper body 1/3 of the way up, then lift 2/3, then all the way up.
- Inhale, returning to starting position, and repeat for 30 seconds.
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: “Why patients visit their doctors: assessing the most prevalent conditions in a defined American population.”
- American Council on Exercise. “10 Pilates Moves to Alleviate Back Pain.”
- “Pilates improves pain, function and quality of life in patients with chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial.”
- StatPearls: "Back Pain"
- Brazilian Journal of Pain: "The Effect of the Pilates Method on the Treatment of Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical, Randomized, Controlled Study"