Pilates has a long history of being used as a rehabilitation technique, and a recent literature review set out to look at the current medical literature on the benefit of Pilates with a specific focus on those studies relevant to rehab.
The review looked at 23 recent studies on Pilates from the medical literature, and found that 19 of these showed positive effects of Pilates for rehab patients.
Low Back Pain
The largest number of studies in this review were those done on the benefits of Pilates for back pain, and that’s not really a surprise. Pilates excels at improving core strength, and a weak core is one of the most common causes of back pain.
14 studies were examined and 10 of them found that Pilates was beneficial for back pain. Most of the studies found that Pilates was helpful at improving both pain levels and disability.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spinal joints, resulting in restricted motion, pain, and disability. Both studies reviewed found that Pilates improved function in patients with ankylosing spondylitis.
Multiple sclerosis is a progressive neurological disease that results in pain, disability, and limited musculoskeletal function. The studies reviewed by the authors all compared the benefits of Pilates to physical therapy. Two of the studies found that Pilates was better than physical therapy, and the other three studies found that Pilates was just as effective.
A separate 2018 study found that Pilates improved walking ability in MS patients.
There were two studies reviewed in this paper, and both found that Pilates was helpful for improving pain levels and quality of life.
A 2018 study found that Pilates might be helpful at rebuilding bone density in some women.
Only one study was covered in this review, and that study found that Pilates resulted in improvement in Cobb angle, trunk flexion, and pain in patients with scoliosis.
Chronic Neck Pain
Like back pain, muscle imbalances and core strength can affect posture and positioning of the neck and head. There was one study reviewed in this paper, and the authors found that chronic neck pain patients experienced less pain, less disability, and better quality of life after Pilates.
The authors found a 2015 study that looked at patients with hypertension who used Pilates. The study found that these patients showed significant improvement and had a clinically significant decrease in blood pressure.
The authors conclude:
“The majority of the clinical trials in the last five years into the use of Pilates as a rehabilitation tool have found it to be effective in achieving desired outcomes, particularly in the area of reducing pain and disability.”
Byrnes K, Wu PJ, Whillier S. Is Pilates an effective rehabilitation tool? A systematic review. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies 2018 Jan;22(1):192-202. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2017.04.008. Epub 2017 Apr 26. Review. PubMed PMID: 29332746.