Injury recovery through Pilates: The Pilates method is famous for toning abs and creating strong, lean muscles. Elite sports men and women also swear by its ability to improve sports performance.
But few people know that Pilates has another important application: injury rehabilitation.
And it’s an effective use of the method. Evidence shows that certain types of Pilates (Clinical Pilates) can help with everything from back pain to recovery after a stroke. The reasons why Pilates is effective for injury recovery are hardly surprising, however, when you consider the origins of this method. After all, Joseph Pilates did develop the method while captive in a WW1 internment camp to help sick inmates return to health.
Almost a century after its invention, health professionals (including surgeons) are starting to recognise the advantages of Pilates. For them, it’s now an important part of the recovery process for their patients. But you needn’t be suffering from a serious injury to use this method. Even if it’s “only a niggle”, regular sessions still offer huge benefits.
Read on and discover why Clinical Pilates is so effective for injury recovery, and how exactly it can work for you.
Why is Pilates so effective for injury recovery?
Pilates is a holistic form of exercise that considers how the body functions as a whole.
It’s an approach that works well for injury rehabilitation. It means a rehab-qualified instructor using the method will look at the entire body when treating an injury, rather than merely focusing on the problem area. The result? Any imbalances in the body, which may be creating compensatory patterns, will be identified and then fixed. As well as treating the current problem, this should also prevent it from reoccurring.
Another plus with Clinical Pilates is that it is more flexible than traditional forms of rehab. Unlike other methods, Pilates exercises can be easily modified to make them achievable but still effective for people with injuries.
And the Pilates equipment – on which Clinical Pilates mostly takes place – makes adapting exercises even easier. Simply adjusting the settings on the Chair, Reformer and Trapeze Table makes exercises more supportive and more beneficial as a result.
Working with a Clinical Pilates instructor (and the equipment) also means you will avoid aggravating your injury. With their guidance, you can work on strength, mobility and correct faulty movement patterns, without worsening the injured zone.
How does it work on injury recovery?
Fixes muscular imbalances
Pilates addresses muscular imbalances, which can often be the cause of injuries. It does this through a focus on unilateral movements. In basic terms, this means exercises that work one side at a time. Exercising in this way helps develop even muscles on both sides of the body.
An instructor watching you move will identify imbalances in your body. You’ll then be given exercises to correct discrepancies in strength. Not only will this deal with the current injury, but it should injury-proof your body for the future.
For improving posture – another common cause of injury – Pilates can be a great choice.
Take the hunched posture many of us suffer from after being slumped at our computer at work. Being seated all day means that your hip flexors become shortened and your glutes and abdominals weaken. Your neck – because of your forward head position – can also become compromised. All of this leaves your spine, hips and knees vulnerable to pain and injury.
But Pilates’s focus on strengthening the glutes, back, and on mobilising the mid-spine is great for alignment. Machine-based Pilates is also effective for solving postural issues. The reformer and trapeze table, for example, provide important feedback – feedback you wouldn’t get from a mat. Over time, repeating basic exercises like reformer footwork (effectively a squat performed lying down) can help you to find a neutral, healthy alignment.
Teaches good movement habits
The equipment is also particularly helpful when it comes to retraining bad movement patterns.
How does it do this? The design of the Pilates equipment (with pedals, pulleys and springs) creates a controlled and supportive exercise environment.
This allows an instructor to break down your movements and see where you might be going wrong. Once they’ve established the problem, the instructor can then give you cues to improve poor movement strategies. At the same time, the equipment itself also helps to prevent you from recruiting the wrong muscles and encourages you to engage the right ones.
Once this initial part of the process has been successful, it’s time to challenge what you’ve learnt. This can be done using the machines and by introducing mat exercises. The latter is particularly helpful for reinforcing new habits because these exercises are performed without any added support.
Stabilises the body
As well as fixing poor movement strategies, Pilates is effective for restoring normal muscle function. This is particularly important when it comes to activating the deep stabilisers after an injury.
These muscles perform an important job in the body: they keep joints in the most stable position. The deep stabilisers around your pelvis and spine, for example, are vital for supporting these structures and preventing injury to them. When they don’t work effectively, problems like lower back and groin pain can be the result.
Without the support of these deep stabilisers, the body also creates compensatory patterns. This means that the deep stabilisers are needed for efficient movement.
Given the important role they play, ensuring these deep muscles are firing properly is essential for injury recovery. Unfortunately, pain caused by injury can prevent these muscles from functioning properly. Worse still, even if the pain subsides, these stabilisers can stay switched off.
But Pilates, with its emphasis on precision and control, is designed to target these muscles. This means that practising this method regularly (and particularly exercises like femur arcs and dead bugs) can help these muscles function optimally.
Supports your mind
When you’re suffering from a bad back, working on your mind is probably the last thing on your to-do list. But it may be worth considering as studies have shown that psychological factors play an important role in injury recovery.
According to these studies, mental distress increases the time wounds take to heal. Other reports also reveal that stressing about your injury is likely to intensify the pain and delay recovery.
But Pilates can support this aspect of your rehabilitation by reducing your stress levels. How? Pilates is a mindful form of movement that encourages you to sync your breath with your movement. In practising it, you can soothe both body and mind.
By focusing on what your body is experiencing in that movement – something Pilates forces you to do – you’ll also gain body awareness. Concentrating in this way has a calming effect on your nervous system. But that’s not its only benefit. Through it, you will be able to identify when you are moving well and when you need to make corrections. Like when you find yourself hunched over your phone on the walk to work!
Connecting to your body through Pilates will reinforce the good habits you learn in the studio in your everyday life. This is important for injury rehab, and might help you avoid sustaining other injuries.
So, what kind of Pilates should I be doing?
When you’re well there is a lot to be gained from practising the various types of Pilates out there.
But it’s a different story when you’re hurt. If you’re using Pilates to recover from an injury (and after seeking advice from a medical professional), it’s important that you take lessons from an experienced Clinical Pilates instructor. These Pilates instructors (like the team at Complete Pilates) have undergone rigorous training and are highly skilled in the field of injury rehabilitation.
This kind of Pilates will usually place on the studio equipment. And this is great for people with injuries – because the Pilates machines are the best place to start the recovery process.
For those needing Pilates for rehabilitation reasons, it’s also advisable to start with one–to– one sessions, rather than group classes. During these sessions, an instructor will be able to identify any muscular imbalances, or faulty movement patterns. They’ll then tailor-make a programme that is just for you and your injury – and watch to make sure you perform these exercises properly.
Unlike in a group class, in this setting you can avoid any exercises that might worsen your symptoms. And, best of all, you’ll only practise exercises that are designed to heal your injury. This should speed-up your recovery.
To book in for your injury rehabilitation with a Complete Pilates instructor, click here.
Before participating in any exercise program that may be described and/or made accessible in or through our website, we strongly recommend that you consult with a physician or other healthcare provider.
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