How Regular Pilates Exercises Can Help Pain Relief

16th October 2017

How Regular Pilates Exercises Can Help Pain Relief
Is Pain All In the Brain?

Pain is a common issue that often comes up in Pilates classes. When I tell people that pain is in the brain, the normal response I get is that “it’s my back that hurts”, “my hip”, “my knee” etc. Pain can be felt in any/all areas of your body but it is produced in the brain. How do you think an anaesthetic works, for example?

Understanding that pain is only ever in the brain isn’t saying that the pain is in your imagination! Of course it's not, but understanding a bit more about your pain and how you can help yourself gives you the power to start to get your pain levels down.

Acute or Chronic Pain?

We can define pain as being acute or chronic. We class pain as acute if you’ve been suffering for less than three months. Acute pain usually comes on quickly and occurs because of tissue damage, for example, a sprained ankle – the tissue repairs and the pain goes away.

The problems start with chronic pain – this is pain that you’ve had for longer than 3 months. Assuming there is nothing serious going on, tissue damage will have repaired by 3-6 months and if you are still feeling pain, then the cause is no longer tissue damage, but sensitivity of the nervous system.
How then do we help people who have chronic pain? We need to look at all these different areas:


Medicines can help to a limited extent in that they can help get us going again – think of it as a 'window of opportunity' to start moving again.


Being in chronic pain can affect our moods and our stress levels. Our perceptions of how serious our condition is and what we feel we can and cannot do are also affected. Try to understand that the amount of pain you're suffering is NOT directly proportional to the damage done.

Learning to calm down our nervous system can help reduce pain, and there are lots of ways of doing this - Meditation and Pilates are both a great way to start. Try to go back to when the pain occurred as well, was it a time of particular stress? Had something changed in your life? The two can often be linked.

Diet and Lifestyle

We should look at how we are living our lives as well as this can have a big impact on our pain levels. If you smoke, drink lots of alcohol, eat lots of junk/processed food, don't drink enough water, you are putting extra strain on your body and likely to be adversely affecting your pain levels. The first thing I say to people who come to me with chronic low back pain (LBP) is to look at their diet; most are usually dehydrated so try drinking 3 litres of water a day (start with an extra glass a day if this feels too much). Also try eliminating alcohol, nicotine, sugar, gluten, processed foods, caffeine from your diet - your pain levels will decrease.

Lifestyle will also affect your pain levels - if you have an office job and then come home and watch TV all night long - yep, that too will increase your pain. We are simply not designed to sit down for hours each day.


It's so important to get moving again at a comfortable level without fear and where your brain does not protect by producing more pain. Pilates is wonderful for this – if you can’t get to a Pilates class, try the exercises below – but equally so is walking. Just make sure that you do something and get yourself moving again :-)

Pilates Exercises to Try at Home

Here are a few exercises for you to try at home – make sure you start slowly and listen to your body, stopping an exercise if it worsens your pain.

Pelvic Tilts

Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms by your side. Slowly tilt your pelvis towards your face, releasing your low back into the mat. Hold for a moment and then return your pelvis back to neutral where you began.

Hip Rolls

Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms out to the side, below shoulder height and palms face up. Allow both knees to go over to one side (only as far as is comfortable), ensuring that you keep the legs glued together. Ensure as well that you keep your shoulder blades connected to the mat. Hold for a moment and then return the knees to your starting position. Repeat to the other side.

Leg Slides

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms relaxed down by your side. Slowly slide one leg away in line with your hip, keeping your pelvis in its neutral position. Hold for a moment and then return the leg to its starting position, keeping your abdominal connected and your pelvis neutral. Repeat with the other leg.

This article was supplied by Pilates by Philippa at Balance Studio.