What the research say

Weak core muscles can cause lower back pain. You have been advised to try Pilates for your back pain. Can Pilates help, and how often should you train? Should you start on mat or equipment Pilates?


In a 2010 study, 20 healthy men and women were given Pilates as an exercise program. They were given supervised Pilates, twice a week for 45 minutes each time. After four weeks, 65% of them passed a test for lumbo-pelvic stability. None of them passed the test at the start of the study.

The researchers from Chiang Mai University, Thailand tested the group after eight weeks of Pilates. The pass rate in the group rose to 85%. The researchers used the biofeedback unit — commonly used to assess core muscle activation — to test for lumbo-pelvic stability. 

The group on Pilates also fared better when compared to a controlled group, which continued with normal activities. None in the controlled group passed the lumbo-pelvic stability test at the start of the study, or on the fourth and eight week of testing.

Twice a week of Pilates also improves flexibility. The group on Pilates scored significantly higher in the sit-and-reach test after eight weeks of Pilates than at the start of the study. Their results were also better than the controlled group. The sit-and-reach test is a common test for lower back and hamstring flexibility. 


A peer review was conducted in 2016 to examine the different research that have been done to date on the effects of Pilates for chronic lower back pain. Based on the findings, if you are taking up Pilates for your back pain, the recommended frequency is more than two to three times a week, and for one hour each time. In total, you should clock at least 20 hours of training.

Chronic back pain describes back pain that has persisted for three months or more.

The group of researchers from Taiwan reviewed 40 scholarly articles that studied the effects of a Pilates exercise program on patients with chronic non-specific low back pain. Of the 40 articles, they chose eight articles which passed an empirical test. The findings of their report are based on the eight articles.


Pilates reduces back pain and improves the functional movements of patients. For optimal gain, a period of three to six months of Pilates is recommended. The report cited a 2013 survey in Australia where 30 physical therapists were polled. According to the survey, the physical therapists said among the back-pain patients in their care, patients achieved optimal results when they continued with Pilates for a period of three to six months, twice a week. 

Even a short stint of four weeks of Pilates is good for back-pain patients. The report found patients who made functional improvements after only four weeks of Pilates were able to maintain the improvements for up to 12 weeks. The good news is expect your hard work to pay off. When the patients trained for a longer period of 12 weeks, the benefits lasted for 24 weeks.


However, the Law of Diminishing Return sets in 24 weeks on. The benefits from a Pilates exercise program were less obvious compared with other therapeutic exercises over 24 weeks. The report found no significant difference between patients who continued with Pilates and those who performed other exercises such as stationary cycling, a common exercise prescription for back pain patients. Eight weeks of Pilates is significantly better than stationary cycling, but over 24 weeks, Pilates is not better than stationary cycling, the report said. There was “no clinical minimal improvement difference” between the exercise, it reported.

One probable reason is at the initial stage of recovery, Pilates which focuses on core training helped patients with chronic back pain to activate dormant core muscles. It was exactly what they needed the most for recovery. It is why significant gains in terms of pain reduction and functional improvements were seen after just four weeks of Pilates, compared with other exercise methods. In the later stage, core training becomes less critical. For further improvements, big muscles of the body would also have to be recruited. It may explain why Pilates is not more beneficial than other exercises when compared over a 24-week period. 


Pilates is practiced on the mat and on equipment like the reformer, barrel, chair and trapeze table in a studio. Should you choose mat or equipment Pilates? The report cited a 2014 study in Brazil, which showed in the first six weeks of training, there was no obvious advantage between mat Pilates or equipment Pilates for patients with chronic back pain.

However, over a longer period of six months, patients on equipment Pilates showed “better and longer-lasting results” than patients on mat Pilates, the research showed.

“The Hundred” is a classical Pilates exercise, that can be performed either on the mat or the reformer. The reformer is an equipment with a system of springs. The springs offer different resistance which make an exercise like “the Hundred” more challenging on the reformer. Ultrasonic imaging tests from a 2008 study in Britain showed when “the Hundred” was performed on the reformer, the exercise created “thicker” transverse abdominus muscles than on the mat. Transverse abdominus is one of the more important core muscles.


Small classes of one to three persons offer a better outcome than large group classes. Supervised Pilates than unsupervised training is preferred. Class size, exercise and quality of the teaching are variables that would affect the success of the Pilates exercise program. So opt for small classes and supervised training, particularly when you have lower back pain. In the studies, the back-pain patients were mostly given a program of modified Pilates to suit their condition.

Just eight weeks of Pilates will give you stronger core muscles and better flexibility. If you are taking up Pilates for your lower back pain, the recommendation is to clock at least 20 hours of supervised training. The back pain reduces, and you will feel stronger. For optimal gains, continue the Pilates exercise for three to six months. Strong core muscles, stable lumbar spine and improved flexibility are key ingredients for a healthy lower back. So get started, you are just eight weeks away to a strong core and a healthy lower back.

Pilates strengthens core muscles and overall stability on the hip and lumbar spine. It also improves your flexibility; all of which are key ingredients for a healthy lower back. Get Started! You are just eight weeks away from a healthy lower back.

Medical Disclaimer: Always consult your physician if you have an existing pain or a pre-existing medical condition before beginning any exercise. The above information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or replace your healthcare professional.

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Really like the Pilates class, better flexibility

I really like the Pilates class because May explains it very well. As such, I can actually do the exercise quite easily. At the same time, I can feel improvement in my flexibility. I hope she continues teaching the class at NUS.

A surprisingly pleasant intro to Pilates

Thank you for a very surprisingly pleasant introduction to Pilates. I am an experienced athlete and a professional diver with chronic stiffness in the neck and shoulders. Today, I found new skills to augment what I already knew, and a focus on proper technique for great results. I felt very effectively engaged.

Weekly Pilates, important in my schedule

I often wear high heels which affect my posture. I walked with a hunch. I have the pleasure of improving my posture in the Pilates classes at Move Therapy. When I see myself in the mirror, I see the change. I stand straight. I put Pilates down as important in my schedule. I make it a point to come for exercise every week.

The best part, my lower back pain has gone away

I attended Pilates classes because of my lower back pain that came about after NS. I had fears prior to joining May’s Pilates session as the only guy in class, but her non-judgemental attitude very quickly eased my worries and concerns. I started to enjoy the sessions more and more each week with her patient guidance. The best part is that now my lower back pain has gone away!

Any stiffness always get relieved

I always leave every Pilates session feeling mobile and supple. Any stiffness and other related conditions, that came with a desk-bound job, always get relieved. It is because May’s approach to exercise is holistic. Clients are more aware of their everyday movement when they get to practice the movement in the sessions; the emphasis on connecting the breath and mind is also important. I wish there were more like her in the industry! I miss my sessions when I’m away.

Each week I walk away with a smile

Just completed my 6th Pilates session and I feel great. I have really noticed the difference already. I am feeling stronger and fitter from my sessions. The care, precision and attention, that May provides, has allowed me to make quick progress and to concentrate on my posture, core strength and flexibility. I love attending my reformer session and each week I walk away with a smile!

Less tired after a long day at work

I am in my 40s. I can feel that my lower back and kneecap are starting to weaken. After I attended May's Pilates lessons, I can feel that I have improved in terms of strength, fitness and balance. I have learned to strengthen and stretch certain parts of our body muscles that we rarely work on in our daily life. My body posture has also improved tremendously, and I feel less tired after a long day of work in front of a computer.

I'm running more, have less injury

I am an avid runner. I run 10km a few times a week. I had hurt my ankles, calves just to name a few of the body parts I’d injured from running. Many of times I didn’t wait until I have completely recovered before I resumed running. It had resulted in the injury being prolonged. After attending May’s Pilates classes for about a year, I have gained better awareness of my body and movement. May taught me a lot about core strengthening, maintaining good posture and about movement. I’m more aware of my running posture. I find myself correcting my posture on the go like altering my foot alignment when I encounter discomfort, as well as how to stretch after. I can run more often because I have less injury now. Thank you May.

My 2017 Highlight is your Pilates Classes

"One good thing that happened to me in 2017 is attending your Pilates classes. I have chronic lower back pain since early 20s. I am in my 30s now. From a MRI scan a year ago, I found I have ‘lesser fluid’ on two of my lower back discs which might be the cause of my back pain. Sometimes, sitting was just annoying and I’d to take leave from my desk or from what I was doing to lie down. I’d been visiting TCM for quick reliefs when the pain was unbearable. I did some yoga and exercises through the years. They helped but they seemed to bring me other issues like knee discomfort, and a feeling of imbalance on my lower back. It could be I was doing these yoga poses and exercises wrongly. However, in your Pilates classes, the instructions are very detailed and clear on which part of the body I should be working on. Hence, I am able to do the pose with confidence without having to worry I might injure my back further. The lower back feels so soft after each lesson. After so many years of searching for an answer, the solution to my lower back problem is Pilates, where ‘The pelvis is the centre of the body where everything begins’ 🙂 Thank you!"


"The result is amazing! My posture has improved. I now stand taller and walk with greater balance. I enjoy every Pilates class with its varied exercises using muscles that I did not know I have."
Kwee Eng


"I love the Pilates class! The clear, well-structured and creative exercises sometimes left me feeling sore, but glad I went. The instructor tailored the exercises to suit class members, provided individual attention to everyone on alignment and posture improvement. I found her “hands on” approach very helpful. It helped me understand what I need to work on. Going to the classes have improved my posture, flexibility and strength. Definitely for people who are interested in increasing their flexibility, balance and strength!"
Chew Hoey


"I'm in my early 20s. Having a lower back strain for close to 3 years, I can really feel the difference after attending May's Pilates group lessons. I’ve been attending for 10 weeks. I can feel that my posture has improved significantly and my back doesn't hurt as often as before. Thank you!"


Take an active approach to pain relief

Do you have lower back pain? You are not alone. Back pain is the second highest reported area of pain among office workers in Singapore, with 42% of the respondents to a study by the Singapore General Hospital said they suffered from back pain. Discover the benefits of taking an active approach to relieve back pain… LEARN MORE

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