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Chronic Pain and Pilates

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain may be caused by a trauma such as a fall or accident, but can also be caused by a nervous system dysfunction, or by something as common as a pulled muscle. Living with chronic pain can affect your everyday life and you can become used to a certain degree of discomfort or pain. No matter how your chronic pain has manifested, there is always something that can be done.

Affecting over 1.5 billion people across the world, chronic pain is a pain which lasts more than 12 weeks and can continue throughout your lifetime. If you have chronic pain, you may feel defenceless and that it is never going to go away. Understanding your pain is very important to enable you to start to help yourself.

"The way you think about pain changes the way it feels". Lorimer Moseley is a leading pain scientist and in this short video he will explain persistent pain.

Often I see people who have come to me as a last resort after consulting with their doctor, physio, osteopath, chiropractor, to name but a few. We seek answers from a number of these professionals and on certain occasions and this can work first time but for many people they can see a slight improvement but the pain returns after a short period of time.

This consists of consuming a balanced diet and exercising every day. If you are worried about harming your body during exercise then pilates could be the best option for you. It is commonly used by physical therapy facilities for patients who have sustained an injury. This proves that it is safe and will have positive effects on your body.

Why is Pilates a good place to start?

As a Pilates instructor, I am not looking to fix you, but to facilitate your recovery. The problem with exercising when you have chronic pain is that your nervous system, which is responsible for producing pain signals, can be overloaded very quickly which causes a further pain response.

How do I know which exercises are suitable?

This is a tricky conversation, as everyone's body is different. Adding too much load too soon is a trigger for pain.

Pilates focuses on how the body is moving, rather than the number of repetitions. We can also use a number of different supports to enable your body to cope with the initial demands, but more importantly not overloading your nervous system, thereby reducing the likelihood of stimulating receptors that send pain signals. You are also taught how to concentrate on your breathing which will have many benefits to your nervous system and overall health in coping with your condition. Pilates can help improve muscle strength, but more importantly allow you to control your body rather than your body controlling you. It's particularly beneficial to those with chronic pain as it encourages your brain to focus on your whole body, instead of just the painful areas. Other benefits include increased independence, increased confidence in moving without pain, less risk of injury and improved function of daily activities.

Which types of chronic pain is Pilates good for?

Pilates can help sufferers of many different types of chronic pain, most notably chronic lower back pain, arthritis and fibromyalgia. For example, Pilates strengthens from the inside out. If you have arthritis, you may be scared about exercising because of the intensity involved. Pilates could benefit you because it involves low-impact movements and restricts the stress on joints. Finally, Pilates can help people who suffer with hyper mobility pain by performing slower, controlled movements and can help lower fatigue for people with fibromyalgia. It also stops tension by relaxing your muscles through breathing techniques. If you suffer from any of these conditions and would like to join in a Pilates session, it is suggested that you consult your doctor first and make your instructor aware of your condition so that you can exercise safely.


To prevent fatigue, try and do Pilates at a time during the day where you feel most energised. You can ask your instructor for a personalised programme to ensure you aren't at risk of injury. Minimise the number of repetitions you do, so that your muscles feel comfortable throughout your workout. Finally, simplify movements that may be too challenging, so that you can still push your body in a safe way.

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