Pilates for Rehabilitation

Pilates for rehab

By now, many people have heard of or tried Pilates as a form of exercise. But did you know that Pilates can also be used as a form of rehabilitation? You may have read the recent POPSUGAR article that talked about Pilates being the "ultimate injury rehab," but here's some more information about the topic.

The Beginning of Pilates

Contrary to popular belief, Pilates was not created specifically for dancers. Joseph Pilates founded Pilates during World War I for injured soldiers. He created a system using hospital beds & springs that allowed the soldiers to begin their rehabilitation program while bedridden. While in England, an influenza epidemic killed thousands of people but those who trained under Joseph did not die. He believed it was because of the system he created.

When Joseph returned Germany, his homeland, the Pilates method he created became widely popular within the dance community. After denying to train the German army in the use of the Pilates method, Joseph emigrated to the United States.

Upon arrival to the United States, Joe and his third wife Clara, whom he met on the voyage overseas, opened a Pilates studio in New York. The studio shared an address with the New York City Ballet, which was owned by George Balanchine. Balanchine took a liking to Pilates and began training under Clara & Joseph. Later, he had the Pilates duo train his young ballerinas.

How does Pilates fit into rehabilitation?

For years, there has been a common misconception that only dancers take Pilates. However, the misconception is slowly fading, as Pilates has become a popular form of exercise across the world. With studios popping up seemingly on every corner, people of all different exercise levels, genders, and ages have taken to the exercise form to increase their strength & flexibility.

However, the most recent change in the Pilates world? The increased popularity of Pilates for rehabilitation. Here’s why.

non-weight bearing exercise
  1. Non-Weight Bearing There are different pieces of equipment that can be used in Pilates, but perhaps the most common is the Pilates Reformer. The Reformer is a bed-like frame with a flat platform. When exercising on the Reformer, the client lays down and places their feet on the foot bar with their head and shoulders relaxed. Pilates utilizes springs as resistance so the client presses against the foot bar to work the muscles of the body. In general, most of the exercises that are performed in Pilates are performed in a prone or sitting position. Because the client is lying down, they are not working against gravity, which is easier on the joints. When someone is going through rehabilitation from something such as a knee replacement or back injury, being able to control how much resistance they have without the added pressure of gravity improves the rehabilitation process.

  2. Promotes muscle balance A common cause of injury is muscle imbalance. Some parts of the body are stronger than others which creates an imbalance. Pilates, however, promotes muscle balance throughout the entire body. In Pilates, a common term you hear is the “core,” also known as your body’s center (think abdominal region). Every movement in Pilates starts by engaging your core, which creates alignment of the spinal column and pelvis. As you proceed through the workout, your entire body will be challenged! In some classes & in the physical therapy setting, you may focus more on certain body parts, for example, the legs. However, all of the muscles of said body part will be challenged equally thus creating balance.

  3. flexibility with Pilates
    Improve Flexibility & Strength In any exercise form, you have the ability to improve both flexibility and strength. However, in most forms of exercise, they are separate. For example, if you are at the gym, you would typically stretch before and after exercise. In between, you would work on some strengthening exercises. With Pilates, each movement is designed to work on both your flexibility and strength at the same time. Further, some traditional exercises like running build shorter, bulkier muscles, whereas Pilates aims to elongate and strengthen the muscles. When the muscles are elongated, there is less chance for injury because the muscle becomes more elastic and joint mobility improves.

  4. Flexibility of the exercises One of the best parts of Pilates is the ability to modify exercises . For nearly every exercise, there is an alternative way to perform the exercise while working the same muscles. Depending on the individual’s comfort level, degree of injury, and familiarity with Pilates, the instructor can modify the exercises from beginner to expert. On the physical therapy side of things, the physical therapist can also modify the exercise based off the patient’s precautions.

Here at Envision Sport Physical Therapy & Pilates, we chose Pilates as our main form of rehabilitation when we opened our doors back in 2004 for the above reasons. Pilates is gentle yet challenging; strengthening yet elongating; flexible yet structured. It accommodates everyone from our younger patients through our geriatric population.

Over the years, we have seen many patients become avid fans of Pilates and some have even become instructors. Pilates has changed and continues to change our patient’s lives. To find out more about our Pilates-based therapy, feel free to contact us. We would love to share everything that Pilates can do for you!


Popsugar, "Pilates Is Famous For Sculpting Lean Bodies, but It's Actually the Ultimate Injury Rehab" by Dominique Michelle Astorino, April 25, 2018, https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Pilates-Physical-Therapy-44692978

#Pilates #rehabilitation #whatispilates

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