Pilates for Degenerative Disc Disease

rehabilitation teaching Mar 22, 2020

If you or your student were diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, you are probably wondering if Pilates is safe for DDD. Which Pilates exercises are good for me? Which exercises are contraindicated?

When the discs of our spine are healthy, they act as cushions and shock absorbers between the vertebrae. Unfortunately, as we get older, the discs begin to wear out which can result in some serious pain in your back and neck.

On the bright side, many sufferers of Degenerative Disc Disease can get relief from pain without surgery. A well-designed exercise program can play a big role in getting back to your life and the things you enjoy.

Of course, every individual will be different and should check with their doctor to see what's best for them. Here are some general guidelines and Pilates exercises to consider adding to your routine:



  • The most important goal is axial length. By moving each vertebra away from the adjacent one, you create a tiny bit more disc space which can result in a lot more comfort. 
  • Traction exercises can be helpful. You don't have to be upside down for it.
  • Improve eccentric abdominal strength which will help keep the torso upright and elongated throughout the day and avoid collapsing the spine.
  • Improve hip dissociation so that you can freely move your hips without affecting your spine.
  • Choose lateral flexion exercises to lengthen the QL (quadratus lumborum) and other muscles connecting the rib cage and the pelvis. If your pelvis is not centered (neutral), then the disc space is more compressed on one side (front, side, or back).




Ladder Barrel
  • Side Dangling
Trapeze Table
  • Hanging
  • Breathing (decompresses the spine due to slight incline)


Eccentric Abdominal Strength

Ladder Barrel
  • Side Sit-Up
  • Standing Back Bend
  • Short Box Series: Flat Back
  • Reverse Abdominals
Trapeze Table
  • Roll Down Hinge
  • Semi-Circle Prep
  • Marching/Knee Folds
  • Side Balance
  • Side Plank
  • Side Balance


Hip Flexibility Exercises

  • Feet in Straps
  • Feet in Straps: 3-Way-Stretch
Ladder Barrel
  • Leg Stretches: Hamstrings
  • Leg Stretches: Figure 4
Trapeze Table
  • Footwork
  • Thigh Stretch
  • The Z (Thigh Stretch)
  • Mermaid


Lateral Flexion + Rotation Exercises

  • Mermaid
Spine Corrector
  • Mermaid
  • Side Sit-Up



To learn each of these exercises and to see even more exercises and guidelines for Degenerative Disc Disease, check out the Programming & Sequencing chapter of the Pilates Encyclopedia. You'll get videos and detailed instructions for each exercise!

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