8 Pilates Exercises For Lower Back Pain


The next time your lower back hurts, roll out a mat and try a few Pilates exercises. There are quite a few moves that work wonders for instant lower back pain relief, and others that help build up the surrounding muscles so you have less back pain over time.

As you may well know, the lower back is prone to muscle tightness and muscle weakness — two issues that can lead to pain, says Jacquline Hinton, a Pilates teacher at Good Body Pilates Studio. “Certain Pilates exercises help to relieve lower back pain because they strengthen and stretch areas that might not have gotten a lot of movement, [especially] from a sedentary lifestyle,” she tells Bustle. “Movement lubricates the muscles and joints to make space for the muscles and joints to move properly and not just sit on one another.”

Correct body alignment is also key to lower back health, says Amy Jordan, a master trainer and CEO of WundaBar Pilates. Your lower back might start to hurt if you tend to stand with your hips too far forward or your pelvis tucked under, she says. “Both take you out of optimal alignment for breath and function, which causes pain in the long run,” Jordan tells Bustle. And that’s where Pilates’ posture-improving benefits come in.

To keep yourself in tiptop working order — and get rid of lower back pain — Jordan recommends doing certain Pilates exercises three to four times a week so that everything stays strong and in place. Keep scrolling for some of the best options, and kiss that pesky back pain goodbye.

1

Plank

Planks are one staple exercise that can strengthen your core muscles to keep back pain at bay. According to Pilates instructor Albina Katzman, this move activates the low abs, which in turn offers support to protect your lower back.

– Grab a mat.

– Bring your palms down to the ground.

– Keep your shoulders over your elbows and wrists.

– Walk your toes back and press through the balls of your feet.

– Stay in this position.

– Aim to hold your plank for 30 seconds to a minute.

– To modify your plank, drop your knees down to the floor.

– Repeat 3 times.

2

Bridge

Jessica Roberts, NCPT, a national master trainer at Club Pilates, says the Pilates bridge is another simple yet effective exercise that strengthens your core, hamstrings, and glutes — all in the name of supporting your lower back. “Staying active can play an important role in back pain,” she adds. “Exercise can assist in promoting circulation, muscle resistance, and improving strength and flexibility.”

– Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on your mat hip-distance apart.

– Keep your arms at your sides with palms facing and pressing down.

– Exhale to engage your core.

– Slowly curl your pelvis and spine off the mat working to articulate the spine to lift.

– Hold at the top as you inhale.

– Exhale to articulate and lower your torso back onto the mat.

– Repeat 10 times.

3

Bird Dog

Jessica O’Toole, a Pilates instructor and studio owner of Willow Tree Pilates, says this exercise is one of the best you can do for the lower back. “It helps to strengthen the muscles of the back, legs, arms, abdominals, and glutes while improving coordination and mobility at the hips and shoulders,” she says.

– Start by kneeling with knees under hips and hands under shoulders.

– Exhale to engage your abs and pelvic floor.

– Lift your right arm forward and your left leg back to reach in opposite directions.

– Lift them to hip and shoulder height.

– Keep your hips squared and your back straight.

– As you breathe out, slowly lower your limbs back down.

– Repeat on the other side.

– Do 5 to 10 repetitions.

4

Thigh Stretch

To reduce lower back pain, remember it helps to work on the surrounding areas. “By strengthening the back of your legs you’ll have better posture for walking and standing,” says Online Pilates instructor Lesley Logan. “By stretching your thighs, you’ll reduce the pull on your lower back from your hip flexors.

– Kneel on a mat with your feet and knees fist-distance apart.

– Press the tops of your feet on the mat.

– Reach your arms overhead.

– Maintain a flat back as you lower your arms and lean back.

– Lean back just enough to feel a stretch in your thighs without arching your back.

– Lift your arms up as you lift back up to the start position.

– Repeat 5 to 8 times.

5

Supine Twist With Knee Sways

Hinton recommends the supine twist to reach your lower back. Note: This is one of those moves that’ll feel really good in the moment, so you might want to try it throughout the day.

– Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and your legs at tabletop.

– Keep your knees and ankles squeezing together and your shoulders on the mat.

– Rock your knees and ankles to the right, keeping your knees stacked evenly.

– Your left hip can come off the mat, but not your left shoulder.

– Use your abdominals to pull your legs and pelvis back to the start position.

– Repeat to the left.

– Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps.

6

Leg Slides

This Pilates exercise builds strength in your lower abs and inner thighs, which then work together to support your lower back throughout the day, Jordan says. “It also engages your core, arms, middle back, hamstrings, and more in a position that won’t aggravate low back pain,” she says.

– Sit on your mat.

– Lean your torso back and place your elbows/forearms down.

– Stretch your head away from the tailbone.

– Open up across your chest to create space in your lower back.

– Stretch your legs long on the mat.

– Keep your knees and toes together.

– Keeping your heels on the floor and your legs closed, drag your heels towards you.

– Bend your knees as you exhale.

– Inhale and extend your legs back to start.

– Do 12 reps.

7

Pelvic Tilt

Hinton is also a fan of this exercise as a way to balance your hips.

– Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.

– Bring your pelvis to a neutral position with a natural arch in your low back.

– Begin to tilt your pelvis by pushing your spine into the mat.

– The natural arch in your back should go away and there should be no space between your back and the floor.

– Reverse this and tilt your pelvis so your back is arched off the mat.

– The natural arch in your low back should become exaggerated.

– Repeat this movement 10 times.

8

Pelvic Curl

The pelvic curl is similar to a bridge, but done in a slightly different way. “This particular exercise not only helps to improve mobility in your spine, but also activates the hamstring and gluteal muscles — two muscle groups that when underdeveloped are a common contributor to chronic back pain,” says Robin Long, the founder and CEO of online Pilates app Lindywell.

– Lie on your back with your knees bent.

– Place your feet flat on the floor about a fist-length apart.

– Inhale, then as you exhale begin to roll your spine off the mat into a bridge position.

– Think about raising one vertebra at a time.

– Pause at the top.

– Exhale and roll your spine back down to the mat one vertebra at a time.

– Repeat 8 to 10 times.

Studies referenced:

Bae, I. (2017). Effects of a static stretch using a load on low back pain patients with shortened tensor fascia lata. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 13(2), 227-231. https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.1734910.455

Calatayud, J. (2019). Tolerability and Muscle Activity of Core Muscle Exercises in Chronic Low-back Pain. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(19). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16193509

Kato, S. (2021). Association of low back pain with muscle weakness, decreased mobility function, and malnutrition in older women: A cross-sectional study. PLoS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245879

Kong, S. (2015). The effects of prone bridge exercise on trunk muscle thickness in chronic low back pain patients. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(7), 2073-2076. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.27.2073

Lin, HT. (2016). Effects of pilates on patients with chronic non-specific low back pain: a systematic review. J Phys Ther Sci. doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.2961.

Tateuchi, H. (2012). Balance of hip and trunk muscle activity is associated with increased anterior pelvic tilt during prone hip extension. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22464201/

Xiao, J. (2015). The Activity of Surface Electromyographic Signal of Selected Muscles during Classic Rehabilitation Exercise. Rehabilitation Research and Practice, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/4796875

Yamato, TP. (2015). Pilates for low back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010265.pub2.

Sources:

Jacquline Hinton, Pilates teacher at Good Body Pilates Studio

Amy Jordan, master trainer, CEO of WundaBar Pilates

Albina Katzman, Pilates instructor

Jessica Roberts, NCPT, national master trainer at Club Pilates

Jessica O’Toole, Pilates instructor, studio owner of Willow Tree Pilates

Lesley Logan, online Pilates instructor

Robin Long, founder and CEO of online Pilates app Lindywell





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