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The Buzz About Pilates for Multiple Sclerosis

Content provided by: Better Medicine from Healthgrades

Balance and coordination problems are among the most common and frustrating symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Over time, you can begin to feel unstable, both physically and mentally, which can take a serious toll on your quality of life.

When your central nervous system is under attack because of MS, you may experience symptoms such as muscle weakness and numbness. That can lead to the loss of balance and coordination. Pilates, a system that focuses on core strength, flexibility, and muscle control, can help offset MS symptoms.

Because it involves gentle, controlled movements, Pilates can help you overcome clumsiness and imbalance. Pilates can also help form better connections between your mind, body, and spirit, which can help combat depression that often accompanies the disease.

Pilates 101: A Short History

Developed by German-born Joseph Pilates, the exercise system known simply as Pilates includes more than 500 movements. Joseph Pilates created the exercise regimen after studying yoga extensively. At the beginning of World War I, the then-boxer and circus performer was detained in a prison camp. To maintain his physical fitness, he performed the floor exercises that are now known as Pilates matwork. He also used objects such as beer kegs, rings, bottles, and bedsprings to create exercise equipment-the inspiration for what would become the Pilates machines that are so popular today. At the time, he called his exercises Contrology, which meant the “science of control.”

After the war, Pilates moved to New York City and opened his first studio. Pilates was ahead of his time, however. He died in 1967, but the Pilates method did not become a popular exercise until the 1980s. Today more than 10 million people practice Pilates, including many people with MS.

The goal of Pilates is to improve flexibility, strength, and coordination without building bulk. It involves performing a series of controlled movements, either on a floor mat or on specially designed spring-resistant equipment. Trained instructors teach Pilates classes, and y ou can even find classes designed specifically for people with MS.

How Pilates Can Benefit You

Pilates can help you in many ways:

Build core strength. Pilates movements focus on muscles in the center of your body. These “core muscles” are important for balance, posture, and stability, which are often affected by MS.

Improve flexibility. Because they focus so heavily on stretching your muscles, Pilates movements help improve joint mobility and muscle elasticity. With better flexibility, you'll have less stiffness.

Support correct posture. One of the main goals of Pilates is to strengthen core muscles, which helps improve your posture.

Promote balance and coordination. Pilates promotes the connection between body and mind, which helps strengthen both muscular and mental dexterity. As a result, people with MS report that Pilates helps with everyday actions such as walking, getting up out of a chair, and climbing stairs.

Tone muscles. The slow, precise, resistance movements of the Pilates method help strengthen muscles, which will help keep you independent longer.

Build endurance. Pilates involves deep breathing, so it helps improve your lung capacity and circulation.

Improve fitness gently. Pilates involves low-impact, partial weight-bearing movements, so it's easy on joints and offers you a safe workout, no matter your age.

How to Find Pilates Classes Most local YMCAs and fitness centers offer Pilates classes. You can also search online for a Pilates studio in your area.

For a Pilates class designed specifically for people with MS, the National MS Society can help. To learn about its MS Pilates Program, call 800-344-4867.

Key Takeaways

  • Pilates, a type of exercise that focuses on core strength, flexibility, and muscle control, is a good form of exercise for people with MS.
  • Pilates involves gentle, controlled movements, which helps people with MS deal with balance and coordination problems.
  • Because it helps form a better connection between the body, mind, and spirit, Pilates can help fight the depression that often goes along with MS.
  • There are Pilates classes specifically designed for people with MS. The National MS Society can help you find one. Go to for more information.
Medical Reviewer: Jones, Niya, MD Last Annual Review Date: Oct. 10, 2013 Copyright: © 2013 Healthgrades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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