Knee Pain Exercises - Pilates for Knees
The Surprising Ways Pilates Can Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
A joint-friendly mind-body workout, Pilates may help ease pressure on the hips and other joints.
By Emily Listfield
Medically Reviewed by Alexa Meara, MD
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The real benefits of doing Pilates go way beyond the holy grail of six-pack abs. For people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), strengthening abdominal muscles can take pressure off painful joints and help maintain mobility. “Individuals with RA need to stay active, and Pilates can provide many benefits, like better postural balance, spine stability, flexibility, strength, better breathing, and movement control,” says Gerardo Miranda-Comas, MD, assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine and associate director of the sports medicine fellowship at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
This is particularly important, he adds, because “RA patients are prone to having weak core muscles due to degenerative spine changes, muscle inactivity, and maybe chronic pain.”
How Pilates Helps The Body
This low-impact technique, first developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, is designed to improve posture through a series of small, targeted movements. “Pilates trains you to pull your abs in and up so you are in alignment. Better posture will ease pressure on joints, especially spine and hips,” says Carrie Macy Samper, program director and training manager for Equinox National Pilates in Los Angeles.
Sessions also include exercises that focus on proper leg, arm, and shoulder movement. “The strength and flexibility you gain will help you handle RA episodes better and can lessen the risk of loss of mobility, including frozen shoulder,” Macy Samper says. “Every time there is a flare-up of RA, the joint may not want to move as much afterward. By gently exercising the surrounding muscles you help to regain alignment so that muscles work properly and you get range of motion back.”
Increase Strength, Decrease Pain
While Pilates cannot prevent flare-ups, it can ameliorate potential side effects. “Strengthening muscles that surround joints can lead to less pain and decrease the risk of further damage,” says Scott Zashin, MD, rheumatologist and clinical professor of internal medicine in the rheumatology division at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. “If your quads are strong, you can decrease pain in the knees, especially if you have a lot of inflammation under the knee cap. Walking, standing, and sitting will get easier with the improved range of motion from Pilates. It can also help with lung function and can definitely decrease stress.”
Getting Started With Pilates
As with any exercise program, check with your doctor before starting. Dr. Zashin recommends seeing a physical therapist for an assessment first if you're suffering from lower back pain or shoulder issues. “You need a physician referral for PT,” he says, “and it will be covered by most insurance companies.”
Many physical therapists will include core-strengthening techniques in exercise programs. Macy Samper also recommends investing in a private session with a qualified Pilates instructor when you're starting out. While it may be pricey, just a single one-on-one meeting will help you get the most out of subsequent group classes. Many Pilates studios offer a discount to newcomers, so be sure to ask. “The movements are so subtle that if you are not doing it correctly you might not experience change. It's especially important for people with RA, where different modifications may be needed.”
When to Pause And Take A Break
It's not recommended to do Pilates during an active flare-up, and be sure to inform your physical therapist or instructor if you have osteoporosis as well as RA. “In general, there is no movement someone with RA can’t do, but if you have osteoporosis, you shouldn’t do as much curling forward, because that puts pressure on vertebrae and is more likely to cause fractures,” Macy Samper says.
The Non-Workout Workout Helps Your Body Move Efficiently
With the increasing popularity of Pilates, there are many options when you're ready to give it a try, including mat classes at your local Y or gym, dedicated Pilates studios that feature Reformers — think of a bed on a pulley system with various straps to help stretch muscles — as well as home videos. (An added incentive: All classes begin with you lying on your back.) Many Pilates studios offer introductory discounts for first time visitors, along with beginner classes on the machines.
If you opt for mat classes, which tend to be larger and less expensive, it's important to know that the teacher is fully trained. If you feel pain or straining rather than muscle soreness, stop and either sit out for that move or ask for an adjustment. Macy Samper recommends doing Pilates two to three times a week. “You will feel different within first couple of weeks, including less pressure on joints. In six weeks, people will think you’ve grown taller.
Video: Yoga For Arthritis | Joint Pain Relief | Therapy, Exercise, Workout | Part 1
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