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Pilates as an Effective Treatment for Fibromyalgia – Part 1

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Joseph Pilates created the fitness system Pilates during World War 1 when he increasingly saw patients confined to their beds and not improving. He knew the benefits of exercise, having being plagued by illness himself, so he designed exercises that could be carried out in bed.  He then further progressed these exercises using springs to increase resistance.  After the war, Mr Pilates developed his exercises to work within the dance world. The Pilates that we know and love today may have undergone lots of changes but fundamentally it remains the same.  It looks at improving ‘core stability’ by carrying out various exercises, breathing with movement and ensuring a correct alignment and body motion.  Our core stability muscles ensure that we have stability whatever we are doing, so whether we’re walking, swimming, standing up, or bending over, our core muscles are always working. If you have a good, strong, correctly working core, then you’re less likely to suffer with aches and pains and you’re more likely to have a good posture.

Pilates can greatly benefit people with fibromyalgia.  When we’re in pain, our body may start to develop fear avoidance, in a physical, behavioural and psychological respect. Our movements may become guarded, such as avoiding bending over to pick something up or developing an altered walking pattern. The fear of pain may be more disabling than the pain itself (Vlaeyen and Linton, 2000) and we can develop these avoidance tactics without even being aware.  These avoidance tactics can lead to some muscles being overused, underused and some can become tight or long and weak. This can then develop into pain felt in other areas of the body and so the cycle continues.

It is a usual phenomenon that when muscles are not used, or are injured/painful they ‘turn off’.  People with fibromyalgia may also have altered breathing patterns due to pain, anxiety and lack of sleep. A lot of people do not breathe correctly and do not use their full breathing capacity and this can lead to fatigue and pain.  As Pilates teaches us the correct way to breathe, you will breathe more effectively and more efficiently, and this will have a knock on effect in getting the muscles to “turn on” and work correctly, thereby placing less strain on other areas of the body.

Pilates is about opening up the body, which is great for people with fibromyalgia as muscles and joints will be stiff and painful. Generally, people with fibromyalgia suffer from a very stiff spine.  Pilates also has some very effective exercises, which help us to learn how to separate different parts of our bodies. For example when you move your right arm, the upper part of your neck and spine might move with it and this may not be the most effective way to move and it may become very tiring. The other great thing about Pilates is that it is very gentle.  You work at your own pace and progress onto the next level if you and your Pilates instructor feel like you’re ready. Pilates can be carried out in a group session (check with a healthcare professional before) or alternatively on a one to one basis, ensuring that you have hands on guidance.  I would personally recommend one to one sessions, especially if you are new to Pilates as your instructor can correctly guide you and watch out for any avoidance techniques.  After your avoidance techniques have been addressed, it may be time for you to join a group Pilates class.

In Part 2 (published on this blog tomorrow) Emma explains some simple Pilates exercises which engage your core muscles.   

Do you suffer from Fibromyalgia?  Our therapists can see you at home for a one to one Pilates session and offer their expertise as physiotherapists.  Call us today on 0207 884 0374 or email us at