One might think of Pilates as a modern-day exercise program geared toward the athletic type – the person seeking strength, endurance and overall body health. Pilates does accomplish all of these goals, but its applications go far beyond general fitness.
In fact, some of the most challenging body dysfunctions can be treated with a Pilates-based rehabilitation program. Scoliosis is one such condition that can be effectively managed by the healing power of Pilates.
Scoliosis causes a “C” or “S” curvature of the spine, making it rotate and twist to one side. Most cases are mild, but severe curvature may cause significant malalignment of the shoulders, hips, pelvis and spine, as well as breathing problems due to spinal compression. While these problems can be debilitating, scoliosis need not alter the quality of one’s life.
The Pilates focus on alignment and centering makes it an effective tool to manage the symptoms associated with scoliosis. By rebalancing muscles in the back, elongating the spine, improving breathing capacity and realigning the hips, Pilates-based techniques can help patients with scoliosis enjoy an active, pain-free existence.
Malalignment from a curvature can be managed most effectively by rebalancing the use of muscles around the spine. By better engaging the underused weak muscles, the overused muscles can relax, thereby creating a more symmetrical alignment. This rebalancing of the muscles can be achieved via simultaneous strengthening and stretching – a concept that Pilates helps to manage quite well. Once the muscles are rebalanced with these Pilates-based techniques, improved alignment of the spine allows for more efficient, pain-free movement.
The compression and reduced lung capacity associated with scoliosis can be addressed with elongation of the spine – a basic concept in Pilates rehabilitative exercise. Decompressing the spine is accomplished through correct use of the abdominal, hip and back muscles. There are many Pilates mat and apparatus exercises that target these muscle groups, thereby building an awareness of posture and spinal elongation. In addition, Pilates helps patients mobilize the rib cage and breathe deeply, which maximizes breathing function and lung capacity.
Scoliosis often results in asymmetrical hip alignment that can cause pain and impede function. Building an awareness of even hip height can help patients better manage the condition. Pilates exercises train patients to align their hips by recruiting the right muscles around their pelvis and spine. When the proper muscles are engaged, patients can correct the hip rotation and twisting associated with scoliosis.
Pilates is more than an avenue to fitness. It is often the best medicine for body dysfunction, and that includes managing any functional loss associated with scoliosis. Although no exercise or physical therapy can straighten or stop scoliosis, rehabilitative Pilates can successfully improve functional management of the condition.
Kim Gladfelter is a physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness in Los Altos. For more information, call 947-8500 or visit physiofitpt.com.