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Pilates Effective for Low-Back Pain

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA on Oct 31, 2006

Low-back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability in the United States, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Among neurological ailments, only headache is more prevalent. As a mind-body exercise professional, you no doubt encounter numerous clients with varying degrees of low-back discomfort.

Recent research supports the effectiveness of Pilates exercise for low-back pain. According to a small, randomized, controlled study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (2006; 36 [7], 472–84), participants who practiced Pilates over a 4-week period experienced more relief from their symptoms than those who went through typical treatment programs.

In light of the growing popularity of Pilates in therapeutic settings, researchers from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, decided to test whether Pilates exercises were effective in improving the condition of patients. The investigators randomly assigned 39 active adults ages 20–55 with chronic low-back pain to either a Pilates training group or a control group. The experimental group exercised on Pilates equipment, while the control group received the usual care provided to individuals seeking medical help for low-back pain. (“Usual care” included consulting with a physician and other healthcare professionals and specialists.)

Posttesting revealed that the Pilates participants had significantly lower levels of functional disability and pain intensity than the control subjects. A year later, the Pilates participants had maintained their physical improvements.

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