Clinical Pilates versus General Exercise for
Chronic Low Back Pain: Randomized Trial.

Wajswelner H, Metcalf B, Bennell K. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012

a recent
, SMR discussed the utilization of vertical traction to restore lumbar
curvature as an effective way to reduce low back pain (LBP).  Traction was compared to conservative
generalized exercise measures, but was a generalized plan of exercise more
appropriate than a clinically prescribed exercise regimen?   Wajswelner et al. hypothesized that LBP will
be significantly reduced in a patient population that undergoes a clinically
prescribed and individualized Pilates exercise regimen when compared to
individuals that complete a generalized exercise plan. Eighty-seven individuals (age 18-70 years) were recruited for this study all of which presented with
chronic LBP, defined as >3 months. 
The participants were then randomly divided into either a Pilates
intervention group (n=44) or a general exercise (GE) intervention group (n=43).
The GE group performed the following exercises: stationary bike, leg stretches,
upper-body weights, theraband, Swiss ball, and multi-directional, non-specific
floor exercises.  Each group underwent
1-hr of training with physiotherapists to familiarize them with their
exercises, initially.  Over the next 6
weeks, the GE group attended group exercise sessions (no more than 4
participants/group) 2x’s/week for 6 weeks, with each session lasting 1
hour.  Each participant was instructed to
perform a minimal amount of home exercises daily during the 6-week timeframe
and to continue doing them throughout the 12 and 24-week follow up periods. The
Pilates group received an individually catered exercise routine created by a
trained physiotherapist, which was based upon the participant’s history,
aggravating factors and physical exam. 
All exercises were performed on the reformer
and trapeze
equipment to help guide and support the subjects throughout their
exercises.  The most common exercise
aspects focused on for this group included: breath control, finding and
maintaining spinal comfort range, exercise movement precision, correct posture,
central trunk stability, smoothness of motion as well as complete range of
motion. Each member conducted 6 to 12 exercises on the equipment and 1 to 4
floor exercises or chair/wall exercises as a part of their home exercise
program.  The primary outcome measure for
both groups was pain/disability as measured by the Quebec
at baseline, 6, 12, and 24 weeks. 
At 6 weeks pain/disability was shown to significantly improve in both
groups when compared to baseline. 
However the improvement difference between both groups was not statistically
significant, but the Pilates group did see a trend towards higher improvement
scores.  Both groups maintained their
improved Quebec scores at the 12 and 24-week follow-up points, but the
difference between the 2 was not statistically significant.

results of this study are interesting for a few reasons. First, it demonstrates
that any form of exercise (individual or general) will have a positive impact
on LBP. The authors stated that a few variables may have contributed to the
lack of group differences. One major factor that may have affected the outcome
measure was that subjects were still able to utilize analgesic medication
throughout the testing.  While the
authors tried to keep its utilization to a minimum, the subjects had the
ultimate say as to whether they would take medication or not outside of the
structured exercise time.  Another item
that might have contributed to the lack of group differences was the relatively
short study period.  As it stands, both
groups underwent roughly 12 to 14 hours of structured, hands-on training with
their respective therapist.  With the
Pilates group there was a trend for a higher Quebec scores.  The authors feel that 20+ hours of total
Pilates training might have elicited a higher, and possibly a significant
response.  Conversely, 20+ total hours of
GE might have elicited the same response. 
What are your thoughts on this study? 
Do you currently utilize any form of Pilates training with your athletes
for LBP or do you find that general exercise is the way to go?  What type of results do you typically see in
contrast to more generalized exercise? 

by: Mark Rice
by Stephen Thomas


Wajswelner H, Metcalf B, & Bennell K (2012). Clinical Pilates versus general exercise for chronic low back pain: randomized trial. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 44 (7), 1197-205 PMID: 22246216