More than 2 million Americans are affected by a type of arthritis called Rheumatoid Arthritis. RA is one of more than 80 autoimmune diseases, each one having its own set of symptoms. RA causes joint inflammation that results in pain, deformity, fatigue, problems with range of motion, and resulting depression.
So why do so many RA sufferers, including actress Kathleen Turner, testify to great results from doing Pilates? In an April 2014 interview with the UK’s Daily Mail, Turner, who was diagnosed in 1992 with RA and had multiple surgeries to cope with her RA. said that Pilates not only helped her to maintain her strength and flexibility, but that it saved her life! When a doctor told her she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, she fired him and sought other solutions for herself. Pilates was one of them.
Physical and psychological stress management is an important way to cope with RA. Feeling sore, achey, and in pain may not motivate you to move, but inactivity and disuse can cause even more pain and difficulty. Unused muscles become weak, causing weakness in the affected joints and creating more pain. Pilates is one of the recommended holistic exercises for an RA program, as it is gentle, low impact, and can be adjusted progressively to a person’s individual needs. The Pilates instructor must be one who is trained to work with autoimmune and neurodegenerative conditions, so that the client’s individual limitations are understood. A qualified Pilates teacher will know how to work with inflamed joints and know what modifications to make in the Pilates repertoire to suit every RA client. The stretching and range of motion exercises help to reeducate the body, improve flexibility, and increase muscle strength. The focus of the mind while doing Pilates must be on the body and during an hour session the mind leaves aside its chatter and worry in order to concentrate on moving. This focusing of the mind has a calming affect on the client by the end of the hour and is often referred to as the “mind-body connection” of Pilates.
Joseph Pilates originally designed his program for injured soldiers. The exercises are beautiful but also technical, so please see a qualified teacher rather than beginning the exercises alone at home. It would be wiser to learn the proper form first, and work with your instructor to gradually develop some home exercises if home exercise is what you desire. And of course, get your doctor or physical therapists advice about embarking on a Pilates program. They even may know of a teacher to whom they can recommend you.