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Can Yoga and Pilates Treat Back Pain?

There are many schools of thought on treating lower back pain. Drugs, surgery, rehab, exercise, and psychological therapy are all options. An easy way to reduce your lower back pain could be taking up one of two new activities: yoga or pilates.

Often recommended for people with lower back pain, yoga and pilates are different but have some crossover in terms of the movements they do. Both are effective at strengthening the core and hip muscles. Pilates is more focused on strengthening than yoga, which involves more stretching.

Research shows that both yoga and pilates are effective at reducing lower back pain. They’re particularly effective at relieving chronic lower back pain. Acute back pain is sudden and often debilitating, usually caused by an injury. Chronic lower back pain lasts weeks, months, or years, and is hard to get rid of.

Yoga and pilates use bodyweight movements but it’s interesting that both are effective at relieving lower back pain because they’re significantly different. That means there might not be a specific exercise or even type of exercise that reduces lower back pain. There are a few qualities that yoga and pilates share that might make them effective.

Both forms of exercise strengthen the core muscles. That includes the hips, abs, lower back and shoulders. Strengthening core muscles is proven to reduce and even prevent lower back pain. Another common link is that both yoga and pilates use bodyweight only as opposed to adding resistance in the form of weights or bands.

Another link between the two is that they’re both low impact, meaning there’s no jumping or jarring movements. For the most part, all movements are slow and controlled.

It’s also possible that any form of exercise that doesn’t aggravate your lower back is helpful. For example, going for a walk can reduce lower back pain. Walking doesn’t involve any core strengthening or stretching. 

Many studies that investigate the effects of yoga or pilates on lower back pain compare them to no activity, which isn’t necessarily accurate because no activity can aggravate back pain. The take-home message is to keep moving, no matter which activity you choose, as long as it doesn’t make your back pain worse.

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