The Power of Pilates Exercise for those with Multiple Sclerosis

MS causes damage to nerve fibers, interfering with signals from the brain to parts of the body.
Photo credit: MEDCLIQUE

I was recently working with a client who has Multiple Sclerosis.  She cannot walk without assistance and her goal is to be able to kneel upright.  While working with her on an assisted Teaser on the Pilates Cadillac, I was supporting her feet in tabletop and challenged her to lift her feet when she started the movement, even if it was only to the point of taking the weight of her feet off my hand as she lifted her head and shoulders off the mat. Those of you familiar with Teaser know that it is a very core-intensive exercise, working the deep transverse abdominals along with other core muscles.  Lifting and extending the legs heightens the core work.  What she did nearly brought me to tears:  As she pushed her upper body up using the support of the push-through bar, she not only lifted her feet but extended them out to 45 degrees!

“Pilates is a safe and effective exercise option for MS and can be used by individuals with a wide range of ability levels.”

— International Journal of MS Care

This woman is so focused and does not back down.  She feels guilty when  her condition causes her to pull back.  Although she is nonverbal, the look in her eyes (we were wearing masks) when she was able to fully extend her legs said it all. I saw her joy, her satisfaction, her triumph! This client works hard consistently, which is key to anyone’s progress on any level.  Those with MS are no exception.  Studies have shown that exercise is extremely beneficial to those with MS.  Pilates has been shown to be particularly safe and effective.  The long, slow, full-body movements help to work deep, stabilizing muscles.  A focus on breathing helps improve endurance and reduce fatigue. Working the core muscles helps with balance and posture.  Working to lengthen the muscles while strengthening can help reduce muscle spasms.  Focused work can help improve the strength that might have been stolen by spasticity brought on by MS.

Pilates Teaser on the Cadillac as demonstrated by Master Trainer Melanie Archer.

The causes of MS are unkown.  Both environmental and genetic factors can contribute to the risk of developing this disease.  It is sometimes referred to as the snowflake disease as it can affect  many people differently.  The National MS Society projects that nearly 1 million people in the Unites States are living with MS.  It affects young and old, and is predominantly diagnosed in women.

All this gives me even more incentive to study my craft and continually learn how it can help others.    Seeing clients reach their goals and make progress is so amazingly rewarding. I have seen others overcome adversities that I’m not sure I would have the strength and conviction to work to overcome.  While my client in the above story did all the work, I was honored to be there to help guide and support her.  And thrilled to watch her enjoy her victories!