• Understanding and applying pilates in clinical practice

    4th September 2016 | donaldt
  • Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, hence the name. Pilates is a body conditioning routine that may help build flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance in the legs, abdominals, arms and back. One of the distinguishing features of Pilates is the special emphasis on spinal and pelvic alignment, postural control, breathing and developing core stability. Pilates also aims at improving coordination and balance, joint mobility, as well as relieving stress and tension.

    The Pilates method emphasises the importance of beginning movement from a central core of stability. Muscle groups of the lower back, abdomen and pelvic floor contribute towards this core of stability and the ability to target these specific set of muscles make Pilates ideal in improving ones core strength and control.

    It's a common misconception that Pilates is only for serious athletes or professional dancers. While these groups first adopted Pilates, they aren't the only ones who can benefit from this approach to strength training. In fact the particular benefits that Pilates offers make it an ideal tool for a variety of individuals, the pro-athlete and the office worker who seldom carries out any physical activity can both gain immensely from Pilates. Pilates' system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty; beginner, intermediate or advanced. Intensity can be increased over time as the body conditions. Thus, Pilates exercise can be done by people of all ages and for people of all levels of fitness. It can also be specifically tailor made individually or in a class setting for pregnant women; prenatal and postnatal Pilates.

    The Pilates exercise method is also used within physiotherapy as a means of treating a variety of injuries, particularly those of the neck and back. This is based on literature that demonstrates strong evidence to support the use of therapeutic exercise in the management of patients with injuries, particularly low back pain. Recent research advocates the retraining of the deep stabilising muscles for patients with low back pain. Pilates focuses on the retraining and recruitment of these stabilising muscles (core stability) as well as improving posture, strength and flexibility.

    Although Pilates can be extremely beneficial for patients with certain injuries it needs to be specific to the individual and not used as a generic tool for everyone. When used in Physiotherapy the key problem issues are identified and carefully selected exercises are applied to individuals with specific injuries. This ensures optimal gains whilst minimising the likelihood of injury aggravation. It is recommended that people interested in commencing Pilates for their injury, should first be reviewed by a physiotherapist trained in the Pilates method to assess their specific problem, and the suitability of this method of exercise for them, understand and master the key elements of Pilates and eventually join a Pilates exercise class.

    Edwina Zarb
    B.Sc (Hons) Physiotherapy, SRP