by Frank Michaels
Anyone who does Pilates for fitness understands the benefits Pilates exercise can offer you. Stronger, leaner body, more flexibility, greater range of motion in your joints, better body awareness, and the list goes on. But Pilates is also highly used for rehabilitation from injuries.
Physical therapists have been acknowledging the power of Pilates for over a decade and have integrated Pilates into their therapy practice. Many Physical Therapist's offices have what are called Clinical Reformers which look like a regular studio Reformer but higher off the floor for greater ease on and off. The crossovers between Physical Therapy and Pilates are many with each borrowing from the other to better help their clients.
Common injuries range from rotator cuff to lumbar strains, both of which can be helped along with Pilates. A more common injury often seen is to the knees. The knee joint lacks substantial stability and so relies on muscles and ligaments to hold it together. Weaknesses in these muscles and ligaments lead to injuries. Pilates is a very effective way to strengthen a knee after an injury or surgery mainly because of the constant attention Pilates pays to alignment and balance of strength.
Understanding the anatomy of the knee and all it's function will better prepare the instructor or therapist for rehab. The muscles that act on the knee include the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip abductors, adductors and external rotators as well as the muscles of the lower leg like gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneals and anterior and posterior tibialis. An imbalance or weakness in any one of these muscle groups may lead to pain in the knee joint.
Pilates exercises performed on the Reformer are especially good for strengthening the muscles that act on the knee. Footwork exercises are a perfect choice because they work the quadriceps so directly. Bridging exercises with your feet on the foot bar work the hamstrings and glutes. Performing these reformer exercises along with your feet in the foot straps can easily work your adductors, or inner thighs, as well as flexibility in the hamstrings and hip flexors. All leg work done on the Reformer can help to strengthen the knees as well as correct alignment and balance issues.
Correct alignment is crucial for healthy knees. Looking at the line from the hip to the ankle gives a Pilates instructor a visual cue into the client's alignment. Legs that bow outward or legs that knock-knee inwards can create issues for proper hip-to-knee alignment and can often be seen in a clients gait. A good Pilates instructor will observe a new client's gait as well as their posture to look for any deviations and imbalances. This is always a way in which to start off a new client so the proper exercise program can be formed.
Tight muscles contribute to knee strain by restricting the motor motion of the knee joint. Tight lateral muscles like the abductors and lateral quadricep, can contribute to lateral knee pain. Pilates, and perhaps more importantly, a qualified Pilates instructor, can observe and help to correct these imbalances.
Developing balanced strength, improving flexibility, and working to correct improper alignment is what Pilates is all about. Next time you need to heal an injury, consider Pilates for your rehab. Better yet, practice Pilates as a way of preventing injuries in the first place.