Blog >> What Role Can Pilates Play in Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy?
12 Jul 22 What Role Can Pilates Play in Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy?

What Role Can Pilates Play in Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy?


  • Pilates can help patients in rehabilitation and physical therapy settings rediscover their mental and physical health after injury.
  • Several studies have found that pilates can help patients improve flexibility, breath control and gait following a stroke.
  • Pilates also benefits the brain during recovery, improving memory by forging new neural pathways, decreasing stress and anxiety, and stabilizing mood.

Health and exercise enthusiasts have long been turning to pilates for a fun, whole-body workout that benefits both the brain and the body. Developed by Joseph Pilates nearly a hundred years ago as a method of injury recovery for dancers, pilates continues to impress its users with its numerous benefits, from increased flexibility and strength to anxiety reduction.

Because pilates can improve both mental and physical health, it is ideally suited for rehabilitation and physical therapy environments. A range of clients, from stroke patients to those with neurodegenerative diseases, can benefit from a combination of elements that make pilates therapy unique and effective.

Pilates and Your Body

Many people do pilates to improve the appearance and functioning of their body, but pilates can also help improve the physical functioning of individuals in a rehabilitation or physical therapy setting. Pilates based physical therapy has been particularly effective for patients recovering from a stroke.

Stroke patients who perform physical therapy and pilates as part of a holistic treatment plan can look forward to an array of physical benefits that will assist their recovery, including:

Increased Flexibility

Many patients experience decreased mobility after a stroke, which, if unaddressed, can lead to muscle atrophy, weight gain, and impaired balance. Physical therapy pilates for stroke patients focuses on flexibility exercises that improve motor function and range of motion and relieve muscle spasticity issues.

Special stretching exercises can also reduce uncomfortable joint stiffness and muscle shortening.

Realigned Gait

The combination of physical therapy and pilates restoration can strengthen the core muscles that surround the spine. Strokes can misalign gait, which can hinder the rehabilitation process. Strengthening the lower back and core can help realign gait and improve stability.

Breath Control

Strong breath control is crucial for stroke patients. Strokes often disrupt muscle control along the diaphragm, leading to asynchronous breathing, misaligned posture, and increased heart rate, all of which can slow recovery.

A combination of stability pilates and physical therapy, focusing on slow, deep breathing, can help patients realign their breathing patterns. Consistent, deeper breathing increases blood-oxygen levels and lowers blood pressure, which can both be extremely helpful to stroke sufferers.

Pilates and Your Brain

People love pilates because it offers mental health benefits as well as physical ones. A healthy brain is critical to the rehabilitation process, as many illnesses and diseases we consider to be physical issues can also affect brain functioning and mental health.

The many mental health benefits of pilates have recently become the focus of a number of research studies.

One study on the effect of pilates training on our brain’s alpha rhythm found that pilates training can help improve brain functioning and intelligence and suggested that pilates may particularly help those with neurodegenerative diseases and those undergoing cogitative dysfunction rehabilitation. Many rehabs are also finding success using pilates for traumatic brain injury patients.

Another study found that older Spanish women who underwent a 12-week pilates exercise program showed improvements in both cognitive and functional abilities.

Specific Mental Health Benefits

So how can a physical exercise routine benefit the health of your brain? It all comes down to the practice of pilates itself, which combines a stress-free environment that helps clear your mind with a challenging activity meant to put you in a flow-like state. Here are some of the cognitive benefits you can look forward to.

Improved Memory

If you’ve noticed that your memory and recall aren’t what they used to be, let pilates give a boost to brain activity. Exercises like pilates protect your brain cells from the deterioration that accompanies the aging process. This is more than preventative; pilates can generate new brain cells and forge neural connections to help ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Less Stress

After a long and stressful day, channeling all your energy into exercise that requires extreme focus on your body, like pilates, can help you find peace of mind. Pilates is an effective and easy way to reduce stress levels and can even help decrease the frequency and intensity of panic attacks in those struggling with anxiety disorders.

Better Focus

Pilates, like yoga, tailors the exercises to your comfort level. Mastering the more advanced moves requires extreme focus on your body and breathing. The concentration necessary can lead to better focus in all areas of your life. This is why many people do pilates before an important work project or exam.

Stable Mood

Many patients in rehab or physical therapy settings experience mood fluctuations during recovery, feeling much more depressed or hopeless one day and filled with energy and motivation the next.

Pilates is a great way to rediscover the middle ground if you experience wide fluctuations in your mood, emotions, or energy levels. Sometimes the accomplishment you feel after completing a pilates class can be enough to lift your mood.

How Phitosophy Can Help

If you’re ready to improve your physical and mental health (and have fun doing it), Phitosophy offers pilates classes for every ability level. We keep our classes small, so you can get the personalized attention you need to meet your specific goals.

If you’ve suffered a stroke or experience another neurological disorder, tell your pilates instructor about the brain injury for a modified program to suit your health needs.

Visit our schedule page to learn more about our class offerings.