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Pilates for Back Pain Relief

Updated: May 31, 2021

Practicing Pilates regularly has been shown to have many benefits for the body and mind. Many experience increased core strength, greater mobility, flexibility and body awareness. However, not everybody realizes that Pilates is also a powerful painkiller that can even be used to help people with back problems.

Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain and if you’re one of the 31 million Americans who suffers with back pain at some point in your life, you know firsthand how miserable it can be. If you are dealing with chronic back pain, pain that persists for 12 weeks or longer, it can have a huge impact on your day-to-day activities. Unfortunately, most people become dependent on daily pain medication to cope. There is a better way my friend. Read on.

Stop the vicious pain cycle

The biggest problem with chronic pain is the vicious cycle. The pain can lead to less activity and inability to sleep. This leads to weight gain and exhaustion – which can actually lead to more pain. It is highly recommended to do some sort of low-impact activity following any prolonged period of inactivity. Pilates is a great option because it consists of low-impact flexibility, muscular strength and endurance movements. Pilates emphasizes proper postural alignment, core strength and muscle balance. Doesn't that sound better than simply increasing your medication intake and masking the problem?

How Pilates can help beat back pain

First of all, if you currently have back pain, consult with your healthcare practitioner before undertaking any exercise program. Also it is a myth that you need to get in shape before beginning Pilates. Trust me DOING Pilates will get you in shape. Working with a trained professional one-on-one will ensure your safety and provide the modifications and tools needed to help you be successful in your practice. Doing Pilates regularly doesn’t just tone your muscles, it can also help to rehab injury, improve the blood circulation and reduce your stress levels. Combining regular massage therapy with exercise can help people suffering from chronic back pain to feel less anxious about their condition too. Fortunately, I am able to offer both of these services at Anointed Hands.

Some Pilates exercises for back pain

The Roll Up (5-8 reps)

  • Lay on mat with straight legs and arms reaching back/overhead

  • Inhale to lift arms toward the ceiling

  • Exhale to do head raise bringing the head through your arms while keeping gaze down

  • Continue flexing the spine creating a “C” shape as you curl up reaching towards your toes

  • Inhale to roll back onto sacrum; keep ears between arms

  • Exhale as your spine greets the mat then return arms to overhead position


  • Knees can be bent slightly if you have tight hamstrings

  • Can press hands to your thighs as you lift and lower upper body

  • In a studio you would have a foot strap helping to hold your feet/legs down on the mat; at home try hooking your feet under the couch

Technique Cues

  • Keep the head low; like trying to stay under a low ceiling

  • Imagine bringing your head through the window of your arms

  • Maintain the “C’ shape like curling over a beach ball 

  • Focus on smooth movement like a wave

  • Relax the shoulders and breath

Spine Stretch (5 reps)

  • Sit up on the mat as upright as possible with legs shoulder width apart and feet flexed; sitting on top of your sitz bones 

  • Arms can be straight out in front of you or reaching toward the ceiling (if ribcage is stable)

  • Take a big inhale then exhale as the spine flexes forward; nose to belly button as upper body rolls down and arms reach forward

  • Inhale to unroll the spine one vertebra at a time back to the start position


  • If hamstrings are tight try bending the knees slightly or elevating the pelvis by sitting on a block or cushion

Technique Cues

  • Keep the arms leveled as the head tries to go as low as it can towards the mat

  • Strong flexed feet help to keep the exercise in the deep abdominals during the exhale

  • Focus on reaching the heels forward while keeping them on the mat

  • Round the low back as if something was pulling your waistband back as you reach forward

Rolling Like a Ball (5-8 reps)

  • Sit up on your sitz bones with knees to chest and feet close to your bottom

  • Tilt back off your sitz bones to find your balance and levitate your feet of the mat

  • Try to maintain a deep scoop in abs as not to hang into low back

  • Hands are wrapped around ankles to hold everything together

  • Place head as close to knees as possible maintaining a “C” shape in spine

  • Inhale as you lift hips to roll back onto upper back NOT onto the neck

  • Exhale to roll forward to start position with the feet levitated for balance and control


  • Contraindicated for people with osteoporosis because the momentum into the spine cannot be controlled

  • Don’t roll onto neck or let head fall back


  • If you are tight in your low back or hips, try starting with hands wrapped around shins or on the back of your thighs vs. wrapping around the ankles

Technique Cues

  • Maintain a deep C-curve from head to tail

  • Imagine being on the inside of a ball having to maintain your curl; not able to lift head out of the ball

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