Pilates, will it help me?

Pilates has received mixed reviews over many years depending on where you read about it.

You may hear claims by many models, celebrities and entertainers that daily Pilates is the way they stay looking the way they do.

Others report that Pilates cured/caused their back pain.

Some want to know whether Pilates will help or worsen their pelvic floor muscle function.

What about their prolapse?

Yet again, others ask – what exactly is Pilates?

So let’s start here: what is Pilates?

Pilates is a method of exercise developed by and named after Joseph Pilates, which targets the spinal, abdominal, and pelvic floor muscles, often termed ‘the core’.

The focus is on body alignment, muscle balance and correct breathing technique, with the aim being to improve body awareness and control, strength and flexibility.

Basically the emphasis is on an understanding of how to move and efficiency of movement.

Joseph Pilates originally developed the system of exercises when he was a prisoner of war during World War I and used it to help rehabilitate injured soldiers.

Later in his life he moved to the USA where he opened his own studio, which became popular with dancers, athletes and entertainers and hence was more widely known.

He died in 1967, however Pilates has continued to be taught in many countries around the world and was introduced to Australia in 1986.

Many methods of Pilates have been established, each one slightly different to the next.

Very broadly speaking, ‘traditional Pilates’ methods tend to stick a little more closely to Joe’s original teaching whereas ‘clinical Pilates’ often means that the exercises have been modified and take into account more recent research in the areas of musculoskeletal research.

A good example here is the pelvic floor muscles.

In Joe’s original exercises, there is no mention of these muscles, however we now realize the importance of the pelvic floor muscles in any form of exercise, particularly when exercising the abdominal muscles.

In fact, the ‘hundreds’ exercise, often regarded as the signature Pilates exercise, and one of the first exercises done in a traditional mat class, would likely be contra-indicated for anyone with pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, including those with pelvic organ prolapse.

Generally Pilates is taught in 1 of 2 forms: studio or mat class Pilates

Mat class Pilates

Studio Pilates

So, let’s get back to the original question:

Will Pilates help or hinder back pain/pelvic floor muscle dysfunction/prolapse?

Unfortunately the answer is: It depends!

Like any form of exercise, the way that you perform Pilates is crucial to gaining benefits. Some important considerations are:

Correct core activation. This is particularly important with regards to the pelvic floor muscles.

You must know that you are activating properly, and exercises must be prescribed that are appropriate for your level of function.

If you are not performing an exercise properly you will not be gaining the maximum benefit from it, but more importantly you are at risk of causing damage.

This can occur for a few reasons:

If you consider the factors listed above, you can see why it can be difficult to gain benefits by simply following a DVD or participating in a very large mat class prior to any other form of Pilates.

So, in summary, Pilates can be a very helpful form of exercise as long as you are:

For more information on classes, please contact your local Lifecare clinic (while not all Lifecare clinics provide Pilates, they will be able to refer you to another close by Lifecare clinic who is able to offer Pilates).