Many people with MS, both relapsing-remitting and primary, experience problems with balance. Balance problems can affect walking ability. A person may feel unstable, need to hold on to a railing to descend stairs and feel unsteady in the dark when he or she cannot see for a visual cue. Some rely on a cane or walker to get around. The benefit of exercise with strength training for people with MS is well documented. The benefits of a strong core for good balance are noted by Nicole Nichols, fitness instructor, and she says "good balance and a strong core go hand in hand...." The base of any sport or movement, and the foundation for every aspect of daily living activities is the core. Pilates became popular for myriad benefits in the 90's, especially for training core strength. The discipline is recognized as especially suited to people with MS for reasons below.
The exercise Pilates, initially called Contrology by founder German Joseph Pilates was developed in the first half of the 1900’s while Pilates was held at an interment camp at the Isle of Man. He developed exercises for his fellow German nationals who needed rehabilitation. Later, Joseph Pilates moved to New York City and worked with ballet dancers. His method built strength with the long lines desired for ballet. Over time, numerous first generation students became teachers and the discipline developed. Now it is easy to find classes at gyms, community centers and at dedicated Pilates studios worldwide.
Types of Pilates
Pilates has two modes - one in which people do exercises on a mat, and the other with Pilates machines that assists in achieving the pose – like the Reformer, Cadillac and others. The machines' first versions were created by Pilates as he helped his patients with springs from hospital beds. The modern versions of these machines help range of motion and stabilization, and will add poses and stretches not possible without assistance.
Reasons why Pilates is great for people with MS
1. Mat Pilates is safe since done on a mat on the floor. Someone who is concerned about falling can build strength and stability safely to help prevent the feared falls. But even though it is safe does not mean Pilates is easy.
2. Awareness during movement about spine, shoulders, breathing, chin and core leads to continued increase in core strength and safety during everyday activities.
4. A strong core gives an immediate feeling of stability and control, and enhances safety in walking, descending stairs and other movements.
5. Pilates has benefits of both physical therapy and resistance exercise. It builds strength and flexibility, and does so in a non-jarring fashion.
6. There are modifications for every level, and a beginner can do the same exercises with the same benefits as an expert with appropriate modifications. As the beginner builds strength and flexibility, the same exercises can be advanced to meet the new level.
7. The focus on flexibility can help relieve spasticity for people who experience this nagging MS symptom. Spasticity causes painful tightness and involuntary spasms of a person’s muscles beyond their control. There are some exercises on various Pilates machines that can lead to spasticity. Luckily, like all Pilates exercises there are modifications to machine moves that can help spasticity.
8. In general, the exercises are not aerobic and it is easier to maintain a core body temperature and not overheat. Do make sure the instructor, or you (if you are at home following a DVD) keep the room cool.
Locally, Pilates classes are wide-spread, but certification is not well-regulated, so it is important to give different classes and instructors a chance. Classes are available at community centers and gyms. The City of Plymouth offers both mat Pilates and a class with the Reformer at Pilates MN in Wayzata. Some gyms have equipment and private instruction like and The Pilates Body in Woodbury. The YWCAs in the metro area offer different types of Pilates classes, mat based, with machines, group classes and private.
Increased mind-body awareness will further benefit MS patients giving a sense of control as positive physical changes happen from practice and discipline. The ability to influence physical changes can seem lacking to someone with MS, but starting Pilates practice will restore some sense of control.