This study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of Pilates exercise in persons with chronic low back pain (CLBP) through a systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs). A search for RCTs was conducted using Medical Search Terms and synonyms for “Pilates” and “low back pain” within the maximal date range of 10 databases. Databases included the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature; Cochrane Library; Medline; Physiotherapy Evidence Database; ProQuest: Health and Medical Complete, Nursing and Allied Health Source, Dissertation and Theses; Scopus; Sport Discus; Web of Science. Two independent reviewers were involved in the selection of evidence. To be included, relevant RCTs needed to be published in the English language. From 152 studies, 14 RCTs were included. Two independent reviewers appraised the methodological quality of RCTs using the McMaster Critical Review Form for Quantitative Studies. The author(s), year of publication, and details regarding participants, Pilates exercise, comparison treatments, and outcome measures, and findings, were then extracted. The methodological quality of RCTs ranged from “poor” to “excellent”. A meta-analysis of RCTs was not undertaken due to the heterogeneity of RCTs. Pilates exercise provided statistically significant improvements in pain and functional ability compared to usual care and physical activity between 4 and 15 weeks, but not at 24 weeks. There weren’t any consistent statistically significant differences in improvements in pain and functional ability with Pilates exercise, massage therapy, or other forms of exercise at any time period.
Pilates exercise offers greater improvements in pain and functional ability compared to usual care and physical activity in the short term. Pilates exercise provides equivalent improvements to massage therapy and other forms of exercise. Future research should explore optimal Pilates exercise designs, and whether some people with CLBP may see more improvements from Pilates exercise more than others.