In the second part of our special blog series on Pilates as an Effective Treatment for Fibromyalgia, our Physio and Pilates instructor Emma explains some simple exercises, which engage your core muscles.
When carrying out Pilates exercises we need to learn how to engage our core stability muscles. These consist of the pelvic floor muscles, which are located at the bottom of our pelvis and stop us from being incontinent. Poorly functioning pelvic floor muscles can lead to urinary and faecal incontinence such as not being able to control bodily functions when we cough or laugh. As well as the pelvic floor, we have other muscles that surround our pelvis and spine which make up the core stability muscles. These too are located deep down and quite low to the pubic area. Think of these muscles like a muscular corset.
To engage these muscles, lie on your back. The firmer the surface, the easier this will be to do but do what works for you. You can use a bed if you prefer, or if you find it tricky to get on the floor. Now bend both of your knees and place your feet together. Place your fingertips on your hip bones (the bony bits at the front of your stomach) and then, move in and down about 4cm. Now you are on top of the area where the core muscles are located. If there’s a bit of extra padding around here you may need to gently sink your fingertips and go deeper to be able to feel the muscles working. Imagine sinking in your belly button, so it’s sinking deeper into your back. You should feel a sensation pulling away from your fingertips and this is part of your core stability muscles. To really feel where your core muscles are, you can try imagining stopping yourself from having a wee mid flow. I completely understand that when doing this for the first time, it may seem very odd and confusing but practice really does make perfect. If you’re having difficulty, see a Physiotherapist/Pilates Instructor to guide you and this will help enormously as you may have muscles, which may have “turned off”, so they might not be as easy to switch on again. These muscles may have not worked in such a long time, so they will need proper guidance and more cues to help you visualise and feel the muscles working. Practicing this exercise will help teach your body and brain to work together again and will engage your core muscles. You can develop this exercise by trying to hold your core muscles for a few seconds, and then by doing the same whist breathing deeply. Mastering this technique will be very much dependant on your medical history, so please don’t dishearten if you don’t get it first time. If you feel quite happy and confident with this, then practice this exercise any time and anywhere. It can even be done when you are washing up or gardening!
When you have got these muscles working, we can then challenge them by carrying out a variety of Pilates exercises. One easy exercise is to lie on your back as before with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Position your spine into a comfortable position, so that it may completely flatten against the floor or with a slight arch in it. Now engage your core muscles as before and take a slow breathe in through the nose. Whilst doing this, slowly take one knee out to the side, keeping both of your feet together. Your pelvis/tummy should be completely still whilst you are doing this but only take your knee out it to where feels comfortable. Now exhale as you return to the start position.
A study carried out in 2009 by Altan et al compared two groups of fibromyalgia patients. The first group carried out a group Pilates programme for 12 weeks, 3 times per week. The second group carried out a stretching and relaxation programme at home. At 12 weeks the first group reported less pain and improved function compared to the second group. I’ve been personally teaching Pilates on a one to one basis since 2009 and I have seen first-hand how it helps individuals with a variety of ailments improving posture, reducing pain and generally giving people a more positive outlook. As discussed these exercises are just a guideline and to experience Pilates correctly it’s advised that you seek the professional assistance of a Physiotherapist/Pilates instructor. Have you had experience of Pilates? What are your thoughts? We’d love you to share your experiences of Pilates and how it’s helped you in the comments below!