How can Pilates help with Arthritis?

National Arthritis week is on the 12-18th October 2015- aimed to raise awareness of arthritis and its impact on the lives of its sufferers, and helping us all to find out more.

Did you know that there are over 200 types of arthritis affecting over 10 million people in the UK? Twelve thousand of those are children and one in five visits to the GP are attributed to arthritis. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis. OA causes wearing of the joint cartilage- the cushioning substance within the joints. This can cause discomfort and pain due to inflammation, as well as stiffness.

As physiotherapists we frequently see clients coming to the clinic looking for ways to manage their pain- for most arthritis sufferers that is the main complaint- that and the frustration of not being able to do what they want to do!

We know that with a condition like arthritis, having a self-management strategy in place, as well as following the medical advice you receive from your GP, is crucial.

For many- finding a suitable exercise programme is the topic of conversation with our clients. Understandably clients will feel anxious about moving and exercising an already painful joint.

We see that they are frustrated at not being able to exercise as it often gives rise to increased pain, and they are unsure of the type of exercise which is suitable. We also see that clients have fear of exercise worsening their condition and causing an increase in pain-they may have tried a variety of differing types of exercises but without success which has left them feeling demoralised. They know that it is important to keep the joint mobile to prevent stiffness, and that working to keep the muscles around the joint strong will help to slow the effects of the joint changes. They also know of the benefits of exercise on heart, lungs and their general wellbeing- but what is the answer?


We have found that many clients enjoy the benefits of Pilates as a low impact form of exercise which focuses gently on flexibility and strength. Pilates is gentle enough that it will allow the joints to move without impact, encouraging increased circulation and nourishment to the joint. Strengthening the muscles around the joint will support those structures which are giving rise to pain, and improving the posture will allow the body to be more balanced. Pilates will feel like something you can do without feeling worried that it will make you worse. And even if you may never have even considered Pilates before- most people who have an open mind get hooked!

If you are considering Pilates then where you start really depends on your symptoms. If you have experienced a recent flare up, or have tried Pilates before and found that it aggravates your symptoms, then a 1:1 may be for you. This ensures that the exercises are gentle enough that your symptoms are not going to be flared up, but hard enough to feel worthwhile. Your Physiotherapist will also make sure that the exercises are tailored to the joints which are affected, and that you pace yourself in the initial stages- little but often is the key. A home exercise programme will also be prescribes which allows you to continue the benefits at home or add the exercises to your usual gym routine.



A Pilates class is great for keeping you motivated and on track. Once you have found a class which suits you- we find that this will become a crucial part of your week. Often clients will find the relaxation benefits of the class very worthwhile as we all try to juggle work, family and all the other aspects of a full life!

Why not give it a try- what’s to lose?

Below are some exercises which may be helpful in the management of arthritis, but please do not attempt these without consulting your physiotherapist. Do not exercise through pain.

  1. Roll Down

Start in standing.

Take your chin gently towards your chest and roll the spine bone by bone as you flex forwards

Only go as far as is comfortable and then uncurl, rising back up again

Repeat 3-5 times.


2. Arm openings

Lie on your side with your knees bent and one hand on top of the other, arms outstretched.

Reach the arm up to the ceiling and then behind your body- follow the movement with your head.

Return to the start position and repeat 3 times each side.



3. Neck rotations.- Rotate your head gently to each side.

Repeat x3 each side

Place head on an ovaball