Your Health

Pilates: A physical therapy alternative

Courtesy of Kim Gladfelter
Pilates, an exercise program that serves people of all health backgrounds and ages, is an option for those seeking rehabilitation from injuries but who are wary of causing more damage.

A woman named Sandra asked me a great question recently. I get this question so often that I thought I’d share it with you and fully explain my answer:

“Kim, I’m desperate to get back into shape after suffering with a back injury for a long time. Physical therapy is a great help, but I want to do more by myself while I’m receiving treatment – I’m just scared, a bit nervous and don’t know what type of exercise is safe.”

Does this ring a bell? Are you in the process of recovering from chronic back pain or another condition that has kept you off your feet for a while? Are you eager to become more active but concerned about setting yourself back with reinjury?

I recommend that my patients who are recovering from injury and wanting to get back in shape add Pilates to their routine. Unlike other types of training such as aerobics and resistance exercises, Pilates is safe and gentle enough to add into nearly any injury rehabilitation program – provided you have training and supervision from an experienced Pilates instructor.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a low-impact, core-strengthening program that is safe for people from all health backgrounds and ages. Typical Pilates movements resemble a mix between yoga and bodyweight exercises, and you can do many of them with just a mat in your living room. But for the full experience, I recommend taking a class with an instructor who can get you on the comfortable equipment engineered for Pilates.

With or without Pilates equipment, the moves you’ll be doing are simple by design – but don’t let the simplicity fool you. Pilates can be incredibly challenging and a great way to improve your posture, balance, strength, flexibility and endurance.

Pilates and injury recovery

Following are three reasons why Pilates rehabilitation can optimize injury recovery.

• Pilates challenges the entire body. During a Pilates session, we’ll use your muscles in a variety of ways – concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions – all of which can stimulate improved strength, motor coordination, tissue healing and postural awareness.

Pilates also features a combination of movements that are open-kinetic chain (when your arms or legs move freely) and closed-kinetic chain (when your arms or legs are fixed against a stable surface). This enables us to perform multijoint, compound, functional movements or single-joint isolated movements. • Pilates exercises focus on breathing and the mind-body connection. I can’t emphasize enough how critical proper breathing is to your physical and mental health. Proper breathing oxygenates your tissues, helps your core muscles fire together as a coordinated unit (a must for eliminating back pain) and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you relax and reduce stress.

• Pilates is incredibly easy to adapt and modify to your needs. The trained eye of an experienced Pilates instructor gives you confidence that the moves you’re doing are safe given your current stage of injury rehabilitation.

Your endeavors will be better rewarded if you take advantage of reliable resources. When in doubt, defer to your physical therapist or doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Suite 108, Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit

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