Most people will suffer from back pain at some time in their life. In fact, it's one of the biggest causes of time off work, causing 12 million days of absence every year in the UK. Knowing how best to treat it is therefore of great importance for enhancing wellbeing among the general population and in the workplace. The trouble with back pain, from a scientific point of view, is that it usually get better by itself within a few weeks or months. So you can't necessarily rely on the word of your friends as to what helped them to recover from their episode of back pain - perhaps they would have felt better then anyway? Even scientific studies of back pain treatments may lead to mixed conclusions, due to differences in protocols or statistical flukes. Systematic reviews, which methodically combine the results of the best quality research trials provide the high standards needed for evidence-based medicine.
Three scientists from the University of Poznań, Poland, compiled a helpful review of the latest research into the effectiveness of Pilates in treating chronic non-specific low back pain. They found three systematic reviews since 2014 which looked at the results of dozens of randomised controlled trials comparing Pilates to controls (no exercise) and other interventions, such as cycling, general exercise, the McKenzie method, trunk strengthening exercises, and massage. Pilates was found to be effective at treating back pain, when compared to the controls, with a similar level of effectiveness to the other exercises.
Of course, the benefits of Pilates aren’t limited to treating lower back pain, and three recent studies comparing the effectiveness of Pilates with other methods widely used in managing lower back pain - the McKenzie method, trunk-strengthening and extension-based exercises - found that the Pilates group improved other aspects of health alongside the pain being treated. Think of it as the side effect that everybody wants!
Fitness and Pilates instructor with a passion for science.