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19 Oct 20 Can Pilates Help Stroke Patients?

Can Pilates Help Stroke Patients?

We’ve written a lot in this space about the benefits of Pilates. It’s what we do! We all know Pilates can make your butt look banging, can help strengthen your back, and Pilates can help you slim down.

But did you know Pilates can also help your body rehab from a stroke? It’s true! A Korean research paper in 2017 proved the efficacy of pilates for stroke recovery. The paper detailed an experiment on the benefits of Pilates used in conjunction with traditional physical rehabilitation in stroke sufferers. One group was given a 60-minute Pilates routine twice a week for 12 weeks, along with their traditional post-stroke rehab. A control group was only given the standard post-stroke rehab. After 12 weeks, “Statistically significant improvement in the physical, social, and psychological domains was found”  in the group that had practiced Pilates. The researchers observed an up to 50% improvement over the control group in physical, mental, and social markers! Read on to learn more about how it works.

Pilates Therapy For Stroke Patients

Let’s start with the basics. What is a stroke? What we colloquially call a stroke is known as a “Cerebrovascular accident” (CVA). Vascular refers to your circulatory system (arteries, veins, blood cells), cerebro referring to your brain. A stroke occurs when there is an obstruction in a blood vessel that brings oxygen to your brain. There are a handful of types of strokes, but they all involve your brain being deprived of oxygen, causing complications. A major complication of a stroke is your brain’s ability to effectively communicate with parts of your body. Over 50% of people that suffer from a stroke are left with some degree of paralysis. Where do Pilates come in? The movements of Pilates have been proven to complement physical rehab in patients suffering strokes!

Pilates For Stroke Recovery

Pilates is also known as “Contrology” because of its emphasis not on repetition but on control. The light reps of Pilates, combined with the focus on getting each repetition right, helps stimulate the neural pathways that connect brain function with muscular movement. Basically, when you are doing Pilates, you’re enhancing your awareness of the individual muscle groups you’re using to do each movement. This focus is key to improving balance and flexibility in a stroke patient.

Pilates And Gait

Pilates also help work out specific muscle combinations. Key to a post-stroke rehab patient are the core muscles that surround the spine. Adding strength in the lower back and spine area can help with stability, and have a positive influence on one’s gait. After a stroke, a person’s gait is usually thrown off-kilter as they learn how to move properly again. Weaker muscles are bypassed entirely, while strong muscles are overused. Thus, a misaligned gait can actually hinder a stroke victims rehabilitation. Pilates can help correct this. 

Pilates and Breathing

Along with straightening your gait, Pilates will also help breath control, which is integral in stroke rehab. A stroke can cause asynchronous breathing because of the disruption of muscle control along the diaphragm. Asynchronous breathing can lead to even further disruptions of your gait, misalign your posture, and raise your heartrate (as you can prevent yourself from getting enough oxygen, and then hyperventilate when your autonomic nervous system reacts.) Pilates brings breathing back to the forefront of the mind, forcing the practitioner to slow down, breathe deeply, and straighten out their back. This can realign the breathing patterns, bringing with it a whole host of positive reactions. Better posture, better blood-oxygen levels, and lower blood pressure are all positive side-effects of deeper breathing that Pilates can spark, all of which are also immensely beneficial to stroke sufferers.

Pilates and Flexibility

Flexibility is an extremely important attribute for post-stroke rehabilitation. As readers of this blog, I’m sure you know where this is going. That’s right, Pilates is great for flexibility!

This is a great research study on the benefits of flexibility exercises on post-stroke victims. It’s a bit long though, so take this representative quote: “Flexibility exercises can relieve muscle spasticity problems, improve motor function, range of motion, and prevent contractures. Stretching exercises can also prevent joint contractures, muscle shortening, decrease spasticity, reduce joint stiffness and improve a post-stroke patient’s overall function.” 

One of the more devastating side-effects of a stroke is the loss of independence that can come from your mobility being reduced. Increasing your flexibility through Pilates can get you back on your feet faster, and reduce the chance of harmful side-effects that can come from post-stroke atrophy that some people experience. 

Clinical Pilates

All the post-stroke Pilates exercises should be done in the presence of an expert in Clinical Pilates. What are Clinical Pilates? Clinical Pilates takes the workouts you love in a group setting, and reduces the session down to just one specially trained Pilates professional and someone who needs focused personal attention. The Clinical Pilates professional will build out a specially designed routine to target exactly what kind of muscular and structural attention a client needs. This professional is usually someone that has a PT specialty, specific knowledge of physiology in addition to their knowledge about Pilates. 

We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of Pilates on post-stroke rehab, but the practice of Clinical Pilates has also been proven to help people with severe back injuries, spinal misalignments, and atrophy that can come from a great many other health disorders. Aren’t Pilates incredible? There are so many reasons to love Pilates!