In recent times Pilates has gained a lot of ground among fitness gurus and those anxious to lose weight. This form of non-impact exercise was designed by Joseph Pilates, a German nurse working in England in the 1920s. His goal was to enable his patients to improve strength and movement. Pilates used a system of springs and straps attached to his patients’ beds. He then immigrated to the United States and opened his first studio in New York. Athletes, dancers and actors flocked to the studio to reap the benefits of this new form of complex but highly effective exercise.

Today, Pilates exercises have been simplified and broken into stages and have become a major tool used by physiotherapists to treat shoulder, spine and hip injuries as well as whiplash, spina bifida, stroke and even post surgical patients, especially after spinal procedures.

Why are physiotherapists incorporating the principle of Pilates in their practice? Because Pilates utilises the fundamental principle of good core stability as the basis for good mobility and it also emphasises postural alignment, body awareness, co-ordination, breathing and stamina. Many physiotherapists have completed post graduate courses to become certified in Pilates and pass on its benefits to their patients. Patients learn how to “switch on” the right muscles to perform the desired function and to maintain posture. This leads to improved core strength and body alignment, resulting in reduced injury risks.

Pilates makes use of therabands, foam rollers and other simple equipment including mat floor exercises which are the simplest and popular form of Pilates training; however there are also Pilates studios, where machines (called reformers) are used, that are different from those used in traditional rehabilitation. Pilates equipment promotes a better workout by using both concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) muscle contractions and the machines give sensory feedback that provides more self-control and body awareness.

The benefits of Pilates are:

– General pain relief – endorphins (pain relieving hormones) are released into the body by doing Pilates exercises.

– Relief of arthritic and osteoporotic pain – the gentle exercises in Pilates are easy on the joints and well suited to patients who suffer from osteoporosis and osteoarthritis because there are no high impact or jarring exercises involved. Muscles are also lengthened by doing Pilates which allows for easier, more pain free movement.

– Relief of low back pain – as the core muscles are strengthened, the spine gains better postural alignment and the lower back is protected from injury. The improved core muscle strength changes the position of the pelvis and improves the muscle balance around the lower back and lower limbs which takes pressure off the intervertebral joints easing lumbar joint, muscle and disc pain.

– Whole person wellness – by incorporating mind and body exercises together, Pilates helps people to be mentally and physically healthy at the same time.

– Weight loss- Pilates creates increased muscle tone, strengthens the core body and improves posture first and foremost. Combined with aerobic exercise however, the muscle tone developed in Pilates will boost metabolism and help the body burn more calories and the holistic mind-body approach of Pilates can help you overcome obstacles to eating well as you become mentally stronger.

The benefit of being taught Pilates by a physiotherapist is the wealth of knowledge a physiotherapist brings in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, exercise prescription and injury management. If you are interested in learning about Pilates that you can do at home or you would like to join a class, speak to your physiotherapist.

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