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Pilates for Back Pain: Top Five Exercises


Three people in a class performing Pilates for back pain | Spine & Sport PT Rancho Santa Margarita, CA ClinicDid you know that 8 out of every 10 people will experience back pain at some point in their lives? That’s a lot of people and an indicator that most people will have at least one episode of lower back pain in their lifetime. However, if you are proactive now you may be able to lessen your chances of becoming one of those statistics.

So what can you be doing to prevent back pain from occurring – ever? Our go-to solution is Pilates, offered at the Spine& Sport Physical Therapy clinic in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA.

Background of Pilates

The exercise form known as Pilates was founded by Joseph Pilates originally to help wounded soldiers with their rehabilitation. Joseph combined his experience in gymnastics, boxing, and yoga to form the exercises seen in traditional Pilates. He referred to his method as “contrology” and emphasized the use of the core, known as the “powerhouse,” through all movement.

How does Pilates for back pain help?

In order to understand how Pilates for back pain helps, you must understand some anatomy. Similar to how strong glutes, strong leg muscles and a stable ankle help prevent knee pain, strong core muscles help prevent back pain. What muscles lie directly to the front of the spine? The abdominals (or core). When properly engaged, these muscles work to protect problems arising in the back. Pretty cool, huh?

Top five Pilates exercises for back pain

Important notice: Before starting these exercises, we highly advise you to speak with your medical care team to ensure the exercises are safe for you to perform. While you may experience some soreness after these exercises, if any of these exercises cause pain, stop doing them and consult with a medical professional.

Abdominal breathing

If you have ever been into our clinic for physical therapy for a back injury, you may have started off your sessions with abdominal breathing. Many of our patients ask us what the purpose of this exercise is, wanting to ramp up the intensity of their workout. However, this is a critical piece to every exercise.

Pilates abdominal breathing | Spine & Sport PT Rancho Santa Margarita Clinic


Many of us know crunches, sit-ups,and even planks as effective core exercises. But have you ever tried marches? Marches are a great way to focus on the lower abdominals (often neglected with traditional workouts).

Marches | Spine & Sport PT Rancho Santa Margarita Clinic

Clams/Side-lying hip abduction

As we mentioned previously, the body works as a unit. When you are looking to prevent problems and pain, you should be looking to create balance throughout the body. In order to support your back, one area you should focus on strengthening is your glutes. Clams are a great exercise that can be done without equipment and therefore anywhere. Or if you are looking for a more challenging exercise, try side-lying hip abduction.

Pilates clams | Spine & Sport PT Rancho Santa Margarita Clinic



Similar to clams/side-lying hip abduction, developing the muscles surrounding your back will help to prevent back pain. When performed correctly, bridges aim to work a number of different muscle groups, but the primary focus is your glutes and hamstrings.

Cobra or Sphinx Pose

If you asked someone what is one of the most important factors to preventing back pain, they most likely would answer good posture. One exercise within the Pilates repertoire that is good for posture correction is the Cobra Pose. This exercise is more advanced and requires significant control of your core and lumbar paraspinals to perform correctly. If you have pain with lumbar extension, please consult with a health care provider prior to attempting this exercise.

Click here for a video example of how to properly perform cobra pose.

Progress with Pilates for back pain

As you get started with these exercises, it is important to know that seeing results will take time, and consistency is key. Different people experience different results in different time frames. You may notice a slight improvement in a matter of days, while it could take others a week or two. Keep up your Pilates practice and you will notice a change in your back pain and posture.

If you have been suffering from back pain and have seen no results or have questions about what is causing your pain, we would love to help you. Finding the appropriate exercises that work for you is important to your success. This may require making modifications to common exercises as you work toward a stronger, healthier you! Let’s work together to get you there.