What is Clinical Pilates?

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Clinical Pilates is a form of Pilates taught by a chartered physiotherapist or trained Health Professional. It differs from standard Pilates as classes are designed specifically to help rehabilitate those who are recovering from injury. Physiotherapists have adapted Pilates based exercises to make them more suitable and specific for patients with back pain, neck pain, upper limb and lower limb pain.

Clinical Pilates focuses on exercises that target the trunk and spinal muscles which are often inhibited and weakened following injury. The principles behind Pilates is to engage and strengthen your core muscles (muscles around your stomach, waist and lower back) which in turn will help to improve posture and prevent injury. The body is constantly being tested with daily activities, we rely on our core musculature to hold us upright and provide a solid base from which all our movements originate from. If we have a weakened or inhibited core due to injury we are less capable of moving efficiently and maintaining our balance.

The importance of regaining lost core strength and control following injury transcends beyond the ordinary recovering back pain patient. Elite athletes and sports people will often use Clinical Pilates as part of their training routine to improve their performance as a stronger core allows them to use their body in a more effortless, safe and powerful way.

What Happens to the Muscles the Neck and Back when there is an Injury.

Lower back pain and neck pain can result in a weakening of the muscles that support the spine. This is due to a mechanism in the body called “Pain Inhibition” where the muscles around the painful site don’t function to their optimal levels and as a result tend to weaken. This weakness can then lead to further back and neck pain as the spine doesn’t have adequate stability (core stability). This is also true of the abdominal muscles (Transversus Abdominus and Pelvic floor muscles) and the hip muscles (gluteal muscle group). If any of these muscle groups are weakened through injury, postural related weakness (such as sitting at a desk all day!) or lack of training it will leave the individual at higher risk of developing an injury.

For example, in healthy individuals the abdominal muscles activate prior to limb movements during activities of daily living; i.e. when walking, climbing stairs, and turning over in bed. This is to provide postural support to the lumbar spine. However, in patients that suffer from Lower back pain, abdominal muscle activation is delayed and occurs after limb movement. As a result the lumbar spine has less stability during functional activities of daily living. Research has also found that even after neck or back pain has resolved automatic recovery of these muscle groups does not always occur.

What does the research tell us on the benefits of Clinical Pilates?

However, all is not lost! The research shows that specific retraining of these groups of muscles can help to resolve and prevent back and neck pain from returning. Clinical Pilates is an integral part of therapeutic rehabilitation as it aims to retrain and strengthen the lower back muscles, abdominal muscles and the hips. It consists of a progressive range of mat based exercises designed to focus specifically on some key elements such as:

  • Retraining of neutral spine and activation of the key lumbo- pelvic stabilising muscles
  • Correction of mal-aligned postures adopted through injury
  • Scapulo-thoracic stabilisation
  • Retraining deep neck flexors to stabilize the cervical spine
Some of the benefits of Clinical Pilates:
  • Improved flexibility
  • Greater strength and muscle tone (stomach, buttocks, thighs and arms)
  • More efficient respiratory system
  • Lower stress levels
  • Better posture
  • Fewer incidence of back pain
  • Fewer headaches (where they are postural based)
  • Increased bone density – Greater joint mobility

At Portobello Physiotherapy our class numbers are small (maximum 8 per class) allowing us to give to the necessary attention to each member of the class. If you would like to book a Clinical Pilates Class with one of our Chartered Physiotherapists please feel free to call us on 01 476 3330 or email us at info@portobellophysio.ie.