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Rehabiltation through Pilates

Marilyn D'Andrea

Most people all over North America are familiar with Pilates - it remains one of the fastest growing exercises in the world. Millions have experienced the physical benefits of added strength, length, and agility that the exercise provides. Yet, few know that Pilates is rapidly gaining popularity in another area - as rehabilitation from injury.

The Culprit: Muscle Imbalances

Many injuries are caused by muscular imbalances within our bodies. A wide range of movements can cause these imbalances - our posture, the way we walk, bend over, sit, lie down, or work out. Most of us move incorrectly in some way, which causes an imbalance by placing too much pressure on some muscles and weakening others.

Let's consider the back, for example. A way of moving may put too much pressure on the spine, weakening the pelvic muscles in the front of the body, or vice-versa. Either scenario creates an imbalance, which means the body is much more susceptible to serious strains, pulls, tears or worse.

Pilates exercise promotes an even musculature throughout the body by strengthening the core. The core is considered the "center" of the body and consists of the deep abdominal muscles and the muscles closest to the spine. Pilates also stresses spinal and pelvic alignment, which is critical for proper form, movement and avoiding injury.

A Flexible Form of Rehab

The multitude of muscle imbalances are many reasons why physical therapists all over the globe are now using Pilates as a form of rehabilitation. Their patients' successful rehabilitation is based on the principles of Pilates - core strength, an even musculature, etc. But another reason is that the practice provides a greater degree of flexibility than most conventional forms of physical therapy. This is true because Pilates exercises can be modified to fit each person's individual needs, while remaining extremely effective. You can go from basic movements to very advanced, depending on how you need to progress or the extent of your injury.

Conventional physical therapy, on the other hand, often involves patients being given a set of exercises that may be too much for them to tolerate. Maybe they cause too much pain, or perhaps they are not aware of how to correctly position their body for maximum results -- something else that Pilates teaches you to do.

Positive Movement Experiences

With Pilates, you become responsible for managing your own rehabilitation. Instead of just coming to a therapist, lying down and having them do all the work, you will learn, and therefore control, your own healing. With Pilates you learn about your body and how to identify the best movement sequence. These factors contribute to a positive movement experience, which facilitates a smooth recovery.

When you create a positive movement experience, you are able to take a step forward without pain. The more you move without pain, the more confidence you gain. And the more confidence you gain, the more likely you are to try another movement or exercise. That's a very healthy rehabilitative cycle.

Most Pilates exercises are performed on a mat or piece of equipment called a Reformer (a sliding carriage inside a long frame connected to springs, ropes and pulleys). One of the nice things about Pilates is the way you can combine the Reformer and mat together as a solid 1-2 approach.

It's nice to start on the Reformer first, because the springs on the Reformer assist the movements you attempt. This gets you out of bad or incorrect movement patterns you've developed which probably led to the injury in the first place. Then, as you progress and are no longer experiencing pain, you can move to the mat classes to continue to strengthen those muscles and prevent further injury.

Rehabilitation vs. Conventional Exercise

If you are injured and are considering Pilates, it's important that you begin working with one of our instructors in private lessons ( see our store for introductory specials - two privates for $100 or 5 privates for $300) so together you can assess the situation and move toward positive rehabilitation. The principles of Pilates are awesome for rehabilitation, but if they aren't used in conjunction with proper therapy techniques it could aggravate the injury.


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