Sherrie Hebert

The adult human skeleton is made up of 206 bones connected via ligaments, tendons and cartilage, and those bones have five major functions: provide our bodies with structural support and allow for movement via the joints, store minerals and fats and produce red and white blood cells and platelets. Bones also protect our organs, with the skull protecting our brain, the rib cage protecting the heart and lungs, the spine protecting the spinal cord and our pelvis protecting the reproductive organs. Moving our bones are approximately 640 voluntary skeletal muscles that pull them into the position we “tell” them to.

This column is the final of a three-part series regarding how Pilates may help various syndromes, diseases and injuries. The initial column defined Pilates, part two demonstrated how Pilates may help in functioning with neurological disorders, and this final installment looking into Pilates and musculoskeletal disorders demonstrating with the most common: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and chronic back pain.

Note: The information in these columns is in no way a diagnosis or cure for any disorder, disease or injury, they are only recommendations. Before beginning any exercise program, speak to your doctor.

In review, Pilates trains your mind to control your body’s movement. It is based upon the principals that breathing and concentration coordinated with controlled, precise and fluid movement will strengthen and lengthen your deep supportive muscles improving stability, balance and flexibility. You will also find your mind and body relaxing as the exercises require your full attention, temporarily leaving your stress behind.

Arthritis is a painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints and is considered among many researchers an epidemic in the US aging adult population. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 54.4 million (22.7 percent) adults had doctor-diagnosed arthritis between the years 2013 and 2015. Of these, 23.5 percent are women and 18.1 percent men. (CDC “National Health Interview Survey”)

The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis, meaning “bone joint inflammation,” is a degeneration of the cartilage covering the bone ends within a joint causing pain, stiffness, swelling and the development of bone spurs. As degeneration progresses, either slowly or rapidly, pain will worsen as cartilage loss continues and may lead to bone-on-bone pain within the joints. Joints most commonly affected are the hands, lower back, neck and weight-bearing joints such as knees, hips and feet. (National Institutes of Health, NIH)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes painful inflammation among various joints in the fingers, thumbs, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, feet and ankles. Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the immune system attacks your body, damaging its own tissues and in RA, the joint linings are destroyed. (“Healthwise,” University of Wisconsin)

Osteoporosis, meaning “porous bones,” is a disease in which the density and strength of bone are reduced. When our bones become more porous, they become more fragile and the risk of fracture increases, primarily in the hip, spine and wrist. There is no pain with osteoporosis, so a diagnosis will likely only be after the first fracture or two, and then confirmed with a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, to measure the bone’s density. (International Osteoporosis Foundation)

At some point, about 80 percent of us will experience back pain, with about 40 percent of those having low back pain that is often accompanied with stiffness and muscle spasms. Chronic back pain is defined as “pain that persists for 12 weeks or longer, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of acute low back pain has been treated. About 20 percent of people affected by acute low back pain develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year.” (NIH)

Many musculoskeletal disorders are not reversable, but their progression may be slowed via exercises, such as Pilates. Practicing Pilates will strengthen your torso from the inside where all movement originates as you perform controlled, precise exercises requiring your full concentration. As you progress, you will find your body may be moving more fluidly and with less pain. You may also find that intense concentration providing a temporary and welcome distraction from your pain.

Should you begin a Pilates program, you must do so under the guidance of a certified Pilates instructor who has knowledge of the disorders and the equipment and machines to assist with the exercises. Private sessions will not only ensure your correct and safe movement, they allow for any modifications you may need.

Having lived with chronic low back and neck pain for nearly 25 years, I can attest to the dramatic impact Pilates has made in my life. Had I not discovered what Pilates can do, I may have had some surgeries, lost some quality of life or experienced depression. However, because I have been practicing for nearly 20 years, I have had no surgery nor depression. And the best overall, my quality of life is far beyond what I thought it could be 25 years ago and isn’t that really what it is all about?

Sherrie Hebert is a certified personal trainer and Pilates mat and equipment instructor. She teaches and trains at Performance Pilates and Gold’s Gym of Pocatello. Contact her at 208-317-5685 or sherriehebert@gmail.com for all your health and wellness needs.