How Pilates Can Help in Arthritis


How Pilates Can Help in Arthritis

 Arthritis is a complex disease condition affecting a number of people across the globe. A set of 100 different disease conditions are called arthritis.

The chief symptoms of the disease include joint pain, stiffness and inflammation. There are a number of causes for arthritis like, genetic, environmental, occupational and age-related.
There a number of treatments options available for arthritis but we still do not have a complete cure for the condition.
Thus patients with this disease always need certain alternate treatments to relieve its symptoms in combination with its conventional treatment.
One of the best known remedy for the disease is exercise. Proper physical activity helps in maintaining flexibility, muscle strength and bodily movements.
One such moderate form of exercise which has shown great promise in relieving symptoms of arthritis is Pilates.
This article discusses about the efficacy of Pilates in monitoring disease symptoms in arthritis.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is an exercise technique named after its creator Joseph Pilates.
It was developed in the early 1900s by Joseph Pilates to improve health and movement among injured soldiers during World War I. It focuses on strengthening the muscles by body balance and spine alignment exercises .
It later became famous in the United States as an effective method to rehabilitate injured athletes and dancers. It involves lengthening and stretching of the major muscles of the body in a balanced manner.
It constitutes of a group of 500 exercises that are inspired from the techniques of yoga, ballet and calisthenics. It improves flexibility, body strength, balance and awareness .

How does Pilates help in Arthritis?

Pilates is a perfect exercise for people who do not like strenuous fitness regimes. But despite being a mild form of physical activity it has tremendous health benefits.
Due to the emphasis of strengthening the body core it helps to enhance the muscle tone and strength of muscles of the abdomen, hips, and lower back.
It enhances muscle control, spine stabilization, posture, body awareness, bodily co-ordination and balance. It facilitates in relaxation of the muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper back.
It is a perfect way to rehabilitate patients from muscle, joint or spinal injuries . Owing to these features it has been found to be highly effective in different forms of arthritis.
Pilates Teacher
Lengthening and stretching the body in a balanced manner assists in relieving the soreness due to osteoarthritis . It further improves lung capacity and blood circulation in the body. Due to better blood supply, more oxygen and nutrients are supplied to the tendons and muscles thus relieving the pain.
Pilates involve a lot of concentration and mental focus. Thus it improves the concentration and stress level of the patients.
They become more aware about their body postures and alignments which is always beneficial to relieve stress from major joints. Not just this, Pilates is extremely useful in increasing the flexibility and strength of the joints. It encourages movements in painful joints for the patients with arthritis and this acts like the best medicine for these patients.
Due to proper motion the joint surfaces get stimulated to produce synovial fluids and provide enough lubrication to the moving parts of the body. Furthermore this technique acts as a shock absorber for certain joints as it emphasizes on proper alignment of the body.
Thus excessive weight or wear and tear of certain particular joints is avoided which results in less damage and ultimately lesser pain among the patients .
Pilates is a form of exercise that could be recommended to people of all ages without fear of any side effects. It is extremely mild but exhibits impressive results .
Perhaps this is the prime reason for its popularity among celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Madonna!

Do we have research to confirm the positives of Pilates?

Research on Pilates have not been highly intensive but still we have evidences in the literature which points towards the efficacy of Pilates in patients suffering from different arthritic conditions.
As such various studies prove that muscle strengthening exercises like Pilates show extremely favorable results among patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Study 1

One such study analyzed the results from 15 trials conducted to learn about the effectiveness of exercise of the knee strength of patients with Rheumatoid arthritis.
The results from these studies showed that high intensity strength training of the muscles is much more effective in fighting the symptoms of arthritis that low intensity fitness regimen.
These moderate or high-intensity exercises did not exhibit any deleterious effects on the patients thus establishing the fact that such exercises are safe for the patients with rheumatoid arthritis . The celebrity star Katherine Turner stated about her own experience.
Katherine was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis in 1992 and underwent 12 surgeries ever since with not much help. She was told by her doctors that she might never be able to move without a wheel chair. It was then that Pilates exercise came to her rescue.

With regular Pilates practice cannot just walk but has also resumed her work and recommends it to patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Study 2

Another study aimed to look into the effects of Pilates exercises in individuals with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. During this study 50 children with Juvenile arthritis were recruited.
The participants were then randomly divided into two groups. One group receives Pilates exercise regime for 6 months while the members of other group were enrolled in conventional exercise program.
The standard measures Pilates benefits for arthritisto estimate the healthy quality of life was employed to determine the effective score of each participant. At the end of this study, all the participants showed improvement from disease symptoms.
However patients with enrolled in Pilates program had better effects on the patients both physically and psychologically.

This study thus proved that Pilates can be used with great efficacy to combat juvenile arthritis.

Study 3

A 2009 study was designed to study the positive effects of Pilates on patients with fibromyalgia. This trial recruited 50 women patients diagnosed with chronic fibromyalgia.
The participants were divided into two random groups – one receiving Pilates treatment program under the guidance of a certified trainer for a span of 12 weeks while the other belonging to the control group performing normal home exercises comprising of stretching and relaxation exercises for 12 weeks’ time.
The pre- and post-treatment evaluation of disease symptom was then performed on both the groups. On comparison of results from the two groups, it was found that the group receiving Pilates exercise treatment showed significant improvement in pain and disease symptoms from fibromyalgia while the other group showed no significant improvement.

This was the first ever trial done on patients with Fibromyalgia to prove the efficacy of Pilates in order to relieve the disease symptoms .

Study 4

A similarly designed clinical trial was performed on patients with ankylosing spondylitis. This study involved 55 participants- 30 men and 25 women- thus making it an unbiased trial.
Each of the participant was divided into two groups. One group received the Pilates exercise therapy to relieve the pain and stiffness while the other received standard treatment regimen. At the end of 12 weeks all the participants were tested for disease indicators.
On comparison of results it was once again established that Pilates is a wonderful means to restore movement and reduce pain among patients with Ankylosing spondylitis .

What it means: Thus trials on various different forms of arthritic conditions have been conducted and all have exhibited similar results on the patients.
Pilates has emerged as a safe and effective treatment for patients with arthritis. In future we need more research studies and clinical trials in order to further elaborate upon the benefits of Pilates for patients with arthritis.

How to perform Pilates?

Pilates involves 6 basic principles. These are:

  • Centering
  • Control
  • Flow
  • Breath
  • Precision
  • Concentration

Quality is emphasized in Pilates than quantity.
Usually the Pilates exercise do not include lot of repetitions of the exercise. But rather proper execution of the exercise with precision is of utmost importance.
Core muscle (i.e. muscle of the back and abdomen are essential for Pilates. Regular Pilates exercise ensures building of these core muscles and thus relieves back pain in the process .
Pilates could be performed in aerobic or non-aerobic form. Focus and concentration is required to perform the exercises with complete precision.
The stretching and lengthening of major muscles must be performed slowly with proper rhythm and breathing pattern. The motive of Pilates is not to exhaust the doer.
It just requires performance of a series of exercises with low repetitions for about 45 to 90 minutes.

There are two forms of Pilates

Equipment Based Pilates: This could be performed using specially designed equipment to provide resistance to the body movements thus helping in muscle toning. The main parts of a Pilates equipment include – the reformer, Cadillac and Wunda Chair.
Mat-Based Pilates: This form is designed to enable performing exercise without any specific equipment. This is performed just on a mat and its main aim is to improve balance, posture and muscle strength. Usually elastic bands or gym ball could be used during this form of Pilates to provide needed support and resistance.
There is no report as to which form of Pilates is better for the patients. It basically depends on personal preference and comfort .
A usual Pilates exercise would include following steps :
Step 1: Simple warm-up exercises prior to the Pilates regimen. These warm up includes Pelvic curl, double leg stretch, single leg stretch, criss-cross or roll-up.
Step 2: First set of exercise include exercise of major muscle groups including hips, legs, shoulders, trunk, chest and arms. These include Roll-up top loaded~Cadillac, Walking~Cadillac, Bicycles~Cadillac etc.
Step 3: Performance of all the exercise in a controlled manner with precision. Using proper breathing technique is also mandatory during performing Pilates.
Step 4: Normal Stretching exercises must be performed thereafter
Step 5: Cool down exercises must be performed in the end.
During the normal Pilates regime both sides of the joint muscles have to be exercised in a balanced fashion.

How is Pilates different from Yoga?

Usually people might get confused between yoga and Pilates because the basic principle behind both is similar.
In fact Pilates is inspired from Yoga and thus emphasizes on breathing, concentration and body alignment and posture. Thus the question arises that how are these techniques different?
The main difference arises in the involvement of the soul. Yoga unlike Pilates involves relaxation of the mind, body and soul. Pilates is a bodily exercise which does not have any spiritual benefit.
Again yoga involves holding a posture for some time. Whereas Pilates involves challenging one’s body while performing unstable postures by moving the limbs in certain angles .

Both the techniques have their own benefits and are highly preferred for patients with arthritis.


Pilates is a moderate form of exercise and is safe to be performed by even pregnant women or elderly people. However like any other fitness regime, it is important to perform this technique after consulting with your doctor.
It is essential to ask if you must avoid exercising certain joints or body parts to avoid excessive damage. People who have undergone a surgery must not perform Pilates for some time.
Also it is mandatory that one must perform this technique under the guidance of a certified practitioner with relevant years of experience.
Home videos or tapes are not enough to help you modify your exercises as per your bodily requirements. Just like yoga Pilates exercises can also be modified as per the comfort of the patient and this could be done only by a qualified teacher.
Also make sure you do not strain your joints while exercising. As stated earlier Pilates does not involve straining your body. If you feel any pain or discomfort, just stop exercising.


Pilates is an exercising technique developed by Joseph Pilates in early 1990s. Today it has become quite famous among the people in US and UK due to its effectiveness in keeping oneself healthy.
It is a good means to maintain a flat tummy and extremely toned muscles. But most importantly it assists in relieving the symptoms of arthritis.
It is like a life line for many arthritic patients who have lost hope of leading a normal pain-free life. Research shows that Pilates can be used for numerous different disease conditions due to arthritis.
Thus it is an effective practice and must be popularized amongst most of the patients suffering from arthritis.