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Pilates after a stroke: Can it really help?

I was recently faced with the bad news that a friend had suffered a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). The effects of her injuries are those similar to those of a stroke patient and I found myself wondering how I could help. Then it dawned on me...Pilates.


After a neurological event, many patients suffer from lack of mobility. With the mind body connection Pilates is known for, sometimes a stroke patient can regain some, if not all, movement back on an affected side of the body. Loss of coordination, balance and proprioception are common lingering effects. Note that this will depend on their individual case and reaction to the stroke and should only be determined by a physician.



Now on to how a Pilates routine can help. As a trainer of this magical fitness regimen, balance is one of the top things I see today’s society needing to work on. To tap into a client’s unique needs, it may be as simple as starting by holding on to a stable surface, such as a counter or an affixed ballet barre and slowly lifting one foot off the floor and progressing up to then taking one hand off of the stable surface. In more severe cases, sitting is an option and having them learn to stand up out of a chair without the need of assistance.


But let’s go back further. What in the body is needed in order for us to balance and stand securely against gravity? The Power House...aka Core. By training our core muscles, the transversus abdominus, obliques, rectus abdominis, pelvic floor and many involved spinal muscles, our bodies are able to help us to remain upright and stable against our body’s movements against gravity. When balance is challenged, not only is there an imbalance in the core and other muscle groups (depending on the movement), but the core is lost. Our Power House must remain strong for any balance and movement to take place safely and effectively. This needs to happen before we can focus on regaining movement.



Coordination is another key component to regaining functional movement. How often are we neglecting the use of our non-dominant hand or leg? All too often. There is a lot to be said for small movements performed by the weaker or possibly under-developed muscles of the body. Take the left arm, for example. Many of us are right side dominant. If we have difficulty training our weaker side, imagine what a recovering stroke patient deals with. Imagine not being able to straighten your left arm or lift it as high as you once did. Training specific small movements and the muscles needed for the challenged movements, may help to in a patient’s way back to movement. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I am not a physician and never claim that by doing Pilates, a patient recovering from a stroke will regain movement and balance fully. I am saying that in many cases, Pilates can be a key component of recovery for so many.


As always, consult your doctor before starting any fitness regimen whether recovering from a medical condition or deemed healthy.


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