Pilates and Parkinson’s: Can Pilates Help?

Pilates and Parkinson'sPeople have been claiming for over a decade that Pilates can help reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s, but there is no scientific research to support this. It’s not merely Pilates instructors who are saying this. Doctors, Pilates students, and Pilates instructors all claim that there is a benefit for people with Parkinson’s to practice Pilates.

When you look at the effects of Parkinson’s versus the benefits of Pilates, the correlation is clear. Parkinson’s typically makes the body unstable. Muscles become rigid and tremble. This impacts balance and posture.

Pilates strengthens core muscles to improve balance and posture. This core strength also helps the body control movements of the arms and legs. Many Pilates exercises improve flexibility, and exercises move at a tempo.

Pilates may not reverse the effects of Parkinson’s. However, because of the nature of the exercise, Pilates (somewhat unintentionally) works to address and improve symptoms of Parkinson’s. By specifically exercising with a goal of improving balance, posture, and flexibility, improvements can be made in these areas. Be aware though that improvements may simply look as though the individual is performing the same in that area.

What is Parkinson’s?

On medicinenet.com, Richard Weil says,

“Parkinson’s disease occurs when neurons (nerve cells) in the brain die or become impaired and stop producing dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger, known as a neurotransmitter, that helps control muscles and movement, and when dopamine levels are low, movement will be slow and unsteady (loss of balance and posture), muscles will be tense and rigid, and there will be shaking or tremors. Parkinson’s disease is progressive, and so its symptoms vary depending on how long the individual has had the disease. The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s that may be helped by exercise are slowness of movement, stiffness, and loss of balance and posture, and so exercises that improve these should be done.”

5 Stages of Parkinson’s

According to WebMD, there are 5 stages of Parkinson’s.

  • Stage one: During this initial phase of the disease, a person usually experiences mild symptoms, such as tremors or shaking in a limb. During this stage, friends and family can usually detect changes caused by Parkinson’s, such as poor posture, loss of balance, and abnormal facial expressions.
  • Stage two: In the second stage of Parkinson’s disease, the person’s symptoms are bilateral, affecting both limbs and both sides of the body. The person usually encounters problems walking or maintaining balance, and the inability to complete normal physical tasks becomes more apparent.
  • Stage three: Stage three symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be rather severe and include the inability to walk straight or to stand. There is a noticeable slowing of physical movements in stage three.
  • Stage four: This stage of the disease is accompanied by severe symptoms of Parkinson’s. Walking may still occur, but it is often limited, and rigidity and bradykinesia — a slowing of movement — are often visible. During this stage, most patients are unable to complete day-to-day tasks, and usually cannot live on their own. The tremors or shakiness of the earlier stages of the disease, however, may lessen or become non-existent for unknown reasons during this time.
  • Stage five:  In the last or final stage of Parkinson’s disease, the person is usually unable to take care of himself or herself and may not be able to stand or walk. A person at stage five usually requires constant one-on-one nursing care.

How Pilates Can Help Parkinson’s

Whether on the mat or equipment, there are plenty of Pilates exercises that can help benefit people with Parkinson’s.

To improve balance:

  • Ab prep and The Hundred on the Mat
  • Teaser prep on the Cadillac
  • Psoas stretch and Single thigh stretch on the Reformer

To improve flexibility:

  • Spine stretch and Spinal rotation on the Mat
  • Bend and Stretch and Leg circles on the Cadillac
  • Short spine prep and Adductor Stretch on the Reformer

To improve mobility of joints:

Pilates and Parkinson’s Video

Here is a video from Polestar Pilates about the benefits of Pilates for people with Parkinson’s. They interview physical therapists, Pilates instructors, and individuals with Parkinson’s.

If you have Parkinson’s, do you do anything to reduce your symptoms? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.