5 Best Pilates Exercises to Relieve Lower Back Pain

Nagging back pain can come at any age, and all too many of us are familiar with it. 8 out of 10 Americans will experience an episode of back pain at some point in their lives. It is one of the most common reasons for missed work and back pain sufferers are spending an average of nearly $3,000 a year on top of other medical expenses (and most of the time not getting any relief).

The good news is, most back pain isn’t caused by a serious medical condition, but rather everyday habits like poor posture, exercise, or simply sitting too much. And it can be easily managed by physical therapy and Pilates. The combination of deep abdominal strengthening, postural awareness, and release and stretching exercises makes Pilates extremely effective in the prevention and treatment of LBP. However, it is also important to apply the techniques taught in Pilates into your everyday life. (Click here to read about the many other benefits of Pilates).

The Pilates exercises below will help you to connect with your deep core muscles so they can begin supporting your back again and remove any added strain. To really feel a difference, you’ll want to do this routine 3-4 times a week consistently.

However, when dealing with any pain, it is always best to consult a physical therapist to get to the root cause of the problem before starting a program like this on your own.

Remember to go slowly and gently, and always listen to your body—you should never do anything that hurts!

If any of these moves do hurt or you don’t feel like you’re doing them correctly, I suggest you take advantage of our Free Discovery Session. We specialize in back pain and Pilates based rehab and can help you discover exactly what is causing your pain and help you learn to move correctly.

5 Best Pilates Exercises For Back Pain

1. Cat-Cow


Begin on your hands and knees on your exercise mat. Your hands are directly under your shoulders, and your legs are hip width apart, putting your knees directly under your hips. Your toes can be curled under if that is comfortable.

Engage your abdominal muscles to support your spine so that you have a straight line from your ear to your hip.


Then, on your exhale, pull your abdominal muscles in and up as you arch your back way up like a stretching cat. At the same time, let your head and tailbone drop down toward the floor.
Take the stretch further by imagining that you are bringing your head and tailbone together as if you were going to make a big circle of your body.

From cat pose, use an inhale to reverse the curve of the spine.

Your tailbone moves up and your chest moves forward and up. Your neck is a long extension of your spine. Don't let the head fall back. Be sure to support this move with your abdominals.
Imagine that your head and tail are moving so far away from each other that at a certain point the only thing they can do is start to curve up.

Repeat the exercise - going from cat to cow and back - slowly, with the breath at least two more times.


2. Roll Down

Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart and your spine in neutral position. Your legs and feet should be parallel to each other. Let your arms relax along the sides your body.

Inhale and lengthen your spine as you prepare to move. Scoop your abs; you will keep them pulled in throughout the exercise.

Exhale and tuck your chin and lengthen the back of your neck. Nod your head forward and let your shoulders drop forward as you start bending your upper back. Bend your knees slightly and continue rolling your entire spine forward and down, one vertebra at a time. Roll down as far as you comfortably can go while keeping your neck, head, and shoulders relaxed. Your arms should dangle from your shoulders.

Keeping your abs scooped and your body draped forward, inhale and tuck your pelvis slightly. Then exhale and begin to reverse the movement, slowly rolling back up, one vertebra at a time. Keep your navel pulled in deeply as you roll your torso back upright.

Return to your starting position. Then repeat the move 5-10 times.

Tip: Do this against a wall. If you feel like your back is coming off the wall altogether (not one vertebra at a time) you need to improve your spinal mobility.

3. One Leg Stretch

Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and heels just under the knees or a little farther away. Place your hands on your pelvis making sure it is neutral or parallel to the sky (meaning hip bones and pubic bone on same level and a little space in the lumbar spine).

Exhale, slide the left heel forwards along the floor away from the sitting bone

Inhale, slide the heel back along the floor towards the sitting bone.

Repeat with the other leg

Repeat 8-10 times alternating legs

Tip: Place your fingers on your hip bones. If you feel these hip bones moving at all during the exercise (tilting forward, dropping down, etc), you may need to improve your core stability.

4. Bridge


Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and heels just under the knees or a little farther away. Place your hands on your pelvis making sure it is neutral or parallel to the sky (meaning hip bones and pubic bone on same level and a little space in the lumbar spine).

Then bring your arms to your sides. Inhale to prepare and as you exhale flatten your spine pressing evenly into your heels and curling the tailbone off the mat, then continue to peel the spine up one vertebra at a time until the weight is evenly between your shoulder blades.

Take a breath in at the top and then exhale again as you roll or peel the spine from the top to the bottom releasing the tailbone last so you come back to neutral position.

Caution! Do not peel the spine up so high that you have weight in your neck.

Tip: If you have low back pain this articulation of the spine may feel good for you to both stretch and strengthen the back simultaneously.

5. Swimming

Lie on your stomach with your forehead resting on a towel roll and your neck long.

Reach both arms overhead as if you’re being stretching at both ends.

Exhale and reach the left arm and right leg away from the body, allowing them to hover one inch off the mat.

Lower and repeat on the other side.

Repeat 6-8 times alternating sides.



There you have it. Want to see what Pilates can do for you?


Check out our weekly Pilates Mat Classes or request a Free 1 on 1 Pilates Taster Session with our physical therapist.

About The Author

Casey Murphy

Dr. Casey Murphy is the Founder of Wheat Ridge’s Leading Specialist Physical Therapy Practice for People in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s+, who want to keep healthy and active. You may know of Casey for her ability to keep people free from painkillers, injections, and surgery. Her mission is to keep people from being sidelined from life and get them back to doing the things they love. Dr. Murphy is also certified in Pilates and teaches rehab Pilates classes as well as utilizes her training to assist in recovery and regaining motor control and stability.