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Pilates and Rehabilitation

Pilates is a gentle form of exercise designed to strengthen and stabilize the muscles of the core. Using the traditional principles of concentration, centering, breath control, core stability, efficiency of movement, flow and precision breathing, this popular exercise provides numerous benefits including, balance, increased flexibility, coordination, improved posture and more.
While the above noted benefits are achieved by healthy Pilates participants, Pilates can also be used to help with various types of rehabilitation. Research has shown that Pilates can be effective in helping individuals who suffer from neck, back and various types of joint pain and unique conditions such as fibromyalgia.

Back Pain
Back pain is the most common ailment/condition experienced by a large population in the United States. Pilates’ focus on core strength and stabilization makes this an ideal exercise format to incorporate into an active or post-rehabilitation back pain program. Active rehabilitation exercises are administered by licensed physical therapist with extensive Pilates training which exceeds that of a regular certified Pilates instructor. Post-rehabilitation exercises are administered by certified Pilates instructors trained to work primarily with healthy adults and participants that have been released from therapy or cleared by a physician for regular exercise. When working with a post-rehabilitation client, certified instructors work with the client to achieve improved normal function and programming often consist of providing a program to achieve muscular balance. Back pain clients will participate in exercises designed to strengthen deep abdominal and spinal muscles such as ab preps, breast stroke (preps), hundred (with legs in table top position) depending on the level of strength a client possesses, leg pull front prep, side bend prep, are just a few of the exercises used in a balanced program. Programs that work the core in flexion, extension, lateral flexion have been proven to result in improved balance and posture that helps the back pain patient reduce and in some cases alleviate pain and improve function.

Fibromyalgia is a unique condition that affects each patient differently. Symptoms of fibromyalgia include, sleep disturbances, morning stiffness, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, restless leg syndrome and many more. According to Gabrielle Shirer, author of Balance Body article, “Pilates for Fibromyalgia,” “traditional physical therapy helps fibromyalgia patients by providing condition education that includes instruction on condition limits and management.” Couple the education from physical therapy with a tailored Pilates exercise program and patients can work to increase strength that will assist with condition management.

The unique symptoms of fibromyalgia can bring about tension in the body making exercise and movement difficult. Studies show the low impact format and breathing techniques used in Pilates is effective in facilitating movement allowing fibromyalgia patients to participate in a Pilates exercise program. In her article, Ms. Shirer notes that the breathing techniques in Pilates, consisting of deep inhales and controlled exhales help to oxygenate blood to assist with exercise execution resulting in decreased muscular tension and increased muscular relaxation.

To insure success when using Pilates exercises, Ms. Shirer recommends that gentle exercises performed on a reformer, followed by very specific mat exercises have been most effective for fibromyalgia patients. Reformer exercises such as arm circles, leg in strap work and the mermaid along with others are good choices for fibromyalgia patients. Mat exercises such as bridging, heel slides and spine stretch forward can be effective exercises for a mat program.

The unique conditions and symptoms that surround fibromyalgia make programming for the Pilates instructor a very detailed, precise process and care must be given to insure an effective, constructive program.

Pilates coupled with physical therapy and other corrective modalities, techniques and practices is becoming more and more common as clients and patients seek holistic options for pain management and healing.

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