Fresh from a Pilates class, I’ve looked at the new Cochrane evidence on Pilates for low back pain and asked Chartered Physiotherapist and Pilates teacher Jane Callaway to explain more about Pilates and to share her thoughts on the evidence.
I went to my first Pilates class in over a decade last night. It reminded me that signing up for a class can give me the nudge I need to go and do some exercise when I’m not feeling like it and that it’s a sociable business; I smiled at several people I recognised from somewhere (where?!) and just hoped I wouldn’t be called on to remember their names. I hadn’t bargained on agonising cramp in one foot from the moment I put my foot on the mat and I’d forgotten that I rely on lipreading and would be unable to follow verbal instructions from our sideways/upside down positions. I had more excuse than most for allowing my mind to wander off onto plans for the weekend, whether I might be feeling a bit hungry and how near we might be to the bit at the end where you’re allowed to just lie there (I think I did that several times before we were supposed to).
It was good timing, anyway, as I’d been looking at new research on Pilates. I’m lucky not to be one of the many who suffer from non-specific low back pain (LBP), a major cause of disability and absence from work. It has been estimated that 40% of people with A health condition (or episodes of a health condition) that comes on quickly and is short-lived. LBP will still have it a year on and, of those, 60% will still not have recovered a year after that.
Exercise is often recommended as a way of managing A health condition marked by long duration, by frequent recurrence over a long time, and often by slowly progressing seriousness. For example, rheumatoid arthritis. LBP. These recommendations are supported by evidence for the benefits of exercise in general, but reliable information about the The ability of an intervention (for example a drug, surgery, or exercise) to produce a desired effect, such as reduce symptoms. of different types of exercise would help people make choices about what to try.
Now, a new Cochrane review has brought together the best available evidence on Pilates, which is being increasingly used by people with LBP. The reviewers were interested in the effect of Pilates on LBP in terms of any Outcomes are measures of health (for example quality of life, pain, blood sugar levels) that can be used to assess the effectiveness and safety of a treatment or other intervention (for example a drug, surgery, or exercise). In research, the outcomes considered most important are ‘primary outcomes’ and those considered less important are ‘secondary outcomes’. that could be considered patient-centred, rather than physiological measures such as muscle endurance or range of motion. But first, what is Pilates?
What is Pilates, and why do it?
Jane Callaway, a physiotherapist who teaches Pilates, explains:
“Pilates is a series of exercises aimed at improving muscle strength, joint movement and balance of the whole body, not just the back.
Strength, mobility and balance are needed when doing sport and leisure activities, as well as everyday living such at washing, dressing, shopping, working and being able to sit/stand with ideal posture.
People with back pain sometimes avoid moving and doing exercise due to the fear of making things worse, which can quickly result in the loss of muscle strength and joint movement. This in turn will have a negative impact on their overall health and wellbeing.
Pilates exercises can start at a very low level, for example : concentrating on the breath whilst holding a static position, and progress to a much higher level of exercise requiring repeated maximum muscle contraction and combined balance work.
The role of a physiotherapist is to help educate people about why they have ongoing pain, help alleviate any fear associated with movement, correct any poor movement habits and postures, and teach ways to improve how the body performs at home, work and in sport.
Being able to move more easily will help people to do activities to maintain and improve their overall health and wellbeing, for example prevent/treat cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
A physiotherapist will work with the patient to ensure the correct level of any exercise is given, and made harder as the body responds to the exercise, which can start after just one repetition. The exercise given may be Pilates but currently depends on therapist and patient preference for this form of exercise.
Sharing research findings is vital to ensure evidence based treatments are offered whenever possible. Cochrane reviews help therapists and patients to know what treatments work well and what doesn’t, and ultimately helps them make an informed decision about their care.”
What does the evidence say?
The evidence in the Cochrane review comes from 10 Randomization is the process of randomly dividing into groups the people taking part in a trial. One group (the intervention group) will be given the intervention being tested (for example a drug, surgery, or exercise) and compared with a group which does not receive the intervention (the control group). A trial in which a group (the ‘intervention group’) is given a intervention being tested (for example a drug, surgery, or exercise) is compared with a group which does not receive the intervention (the ‘control group’). with 510 people with non-specific A health condition marked by long duration, by frequent recurrence over a long time, and often by slowly progressing seriousness. For example, rheumatoid arthritis. LBP. Six compared Pilates (led by trained therapists) with minimal/no A treatment, procedure or programme of health care that has the potential to change the course of events of a healthcare condition. Examples include a drug, surgery, exercise or counselling. and four with other exercises. Something done with the aim of improving health or relieving suffering. For example, medicines, surgery, psychological and physical therapies, diet and exercise changes. programmes lasted between ten and 90 days and follow-up varied from four weeks to six months.
- Pilates is more effective than minimal A treatment, procedure or programme of health care that has the potential to change the course of events of a healthcare condition. Examples include a drug, surgery, exercise or counselling. for improving pain, disability, function and global impression of recovery at short-term follow up and these improvements are seen for pain and disability at intermediate-term follow up
- Pilates is probably no more effective for pain and disability than other forms of exercise
How reliable is the evidence?
The evidence was judged to be low to moderate quality. Whilst most Clinical trials are research studies involving people who use healthcare services. They often compare a new or different treatment with the best treatment currently available. This is to test whether the new or different treatment is safe, effective and any better than what is currently used. No matter how promising a new treatment may appear during tests in a laboratory, it must go through clinical trials before its benefits and risks can really be known. were at low A way of expressing the chance of an event taking place, expressed as the number of events divided by the total number of observations or people. It can be stated as ‘the chance of falling were one in four’ (1/4 = 25%). This measure is good no matter the incidence of events i.e. common or infrequent. of Any factor, recognised or not, that distorts the findings of a study. For example, reporting bias is a type of bias that occurs when researchers, or others (e.g. drug companies) choose not report or publish the results of a study, or do not provide full information about a study., they were small and there were not many of them. None of the Clinical trials are research studies involving people who use healthcare services. They often compare a new or different treatment with the best treatment currently available. This is to test whether the new or different treatment is safe, effective and any better than what is currently used. No matter how promising a new treatment may appear during tests in a laboratory, it must go through clinical trials before its benefits and risks can really be known. followed up participants over a long period of time. The reviewers note that there was research reported in eight conference abstracts but not in full publications, which could not be included in the review, and as unpublished studies are more likely to report negative findings the review’s conclusions may be over optimistic. Future research might give a different picture.
Where does this leave us?
“The conclusion of this Cochrane review is that there is not yet enough robust research to provide evidence for or against the use of Pilates for ‘non-specific low back pain’. What evidence there is suggests that Pilates may be helpful but is no better than other types of exercise.
People with low back pain that do pilates on a regular basis often experience less or no pain but as yet there is no direct evidence that it is the specific Pilates exercises helping to reduce pain levels. There are many other factors that need to be considered such as the delivery style and skill set of the physiotherapist, whether the exercise is delivered as a class or 1:1, whether the patient has to self fund the exercise or not. It also needs to be remembered that for any exercise to be beneficial it needs to started at the right level for the individual, and be repeated on a regular basis.
Further research is urgently needed to help patients with non-specific low back pain, and to help identify which specific aspects of therapy help most with reducing their pain, and improving their health and well being. Back pain is an enormous cost to the western economy and therefore needs to be a priority for future research funding.
In the meantime Pilates taught by a physiotherapist is helping some patients manage their back pain and so it appears that continuing to offer this service is still appropriate in the light of this latest Cochrane review.”
Jane can be contacted at: email@example.com
Pilates: new evidence on help for low back pain by Sarah Chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD010265.pub2/abstract. The featured images are not available for reuse or republication as they were purchased for Evidently Cochrane from istockphoto.com and shutterstock.com.
Yamato TP, Maher CG, Saragiotto BT, Hancock MJ, Ostelo RWJG, Cabral CMN, Menezes Costa LC, Costa LOP. Pilates for low back pain. Cochrane Database of In systematic reviews we search for and summarize studies that answer a specific research question (e.g. is paracetamol effective and safe for treating back pain?). The studies are identified, assessed, and summarized by using a systematic and predefined approach. They inform recommendations for healthcare and research. 2015, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD010265. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010265.pub2.
Plain language summary of this review: http://www.cochrane.org/CD010265/BACK_pilates-for-low-back-pain