The Pilates Exercises That Healed My Low Back Pain
Updated: Jan 4
When I first started practicing Pilates, I worked one-on-one with an instructor in St Andrews, Scotland. I had just finished a six-week program with a physical therapist to address persistent low back pain that had troubled me on and off for years. I remember the day Margot, the PT, told me I was ready to move on. It's true that my most recent episode of back pain had resolved, but I didn't really feel that much stronger or more stable in my everyday activities. I told her I felt like I was one wrong move away from knocking on her door for more treatment. Her recommendation? Do Pilates.
Margot's advice literally changed my life. She encouraged me to find an instructor who could work with me one-on-one for six weeks, or until I had mastered the basic principles of Pilates. When I asked how I would know I had found a good instructor, she said, if someone were to walk by the room where you were doing Pilates and think, they're doing nothing in there, you'll know you've got it right.
How could doing nothing help me? Because Pilates gets you in touch with muscles you're not used to feeling. Your deepest abdominal and back muscles help to stabilize your spine and your whole torso in every possible position - whether you're sitting at a desk, carrying groceries, walking up stairs, turning over in bed, bending down to pet your dog, or picking up a baby. Pilates prepares you for the activities you enjoy most in your everyday life, so you can continue living your life to its fullest.
In my case, with my history of back pain, that practice had to start really small in order to strengthen those deep muscles and allow me to feel their stabilizing power. That's why Margot could confidently say it would look like I was "doing nothing" when in fact I would be firing up my core, concentrating on the smallest movements, and working up a sweat. This foundation would eventually prepare me for group classes, and to progress from a beginner to an intermediate to an advanced level of practice. More importantly, it allowed me to steer clear of the episodes of back pain that had plagued me for years. And the same thing can happen for you - if you commit to practice.
Joseph Pilates used to ask his clients to commit to doing Pilates three times a week for at least three months. That's a big commitment and most gyms don't operate that way today! I used to do the exercises in this video every day. It would only take about seven minutes, and I would literally feel better right away.
I still do them a few times each week, on days where I feel particularly stiff or achy or just like I need a little reset. They enable me do the things I love doing - cooking, going for long walks, strength training, gardening - without worrying about back pain. Give it a try - and see how you feel immediately afterwards, and later the same day, and the next morning. My guess it your back will feel a little bit better right away.