Pilates Training and Peripheral Atrophy

by | May 12, 2008 | Alleviating Pain & Chronic Health Problems, Health, Pilates | 0 comments

I received this question about Pilates training by email today, thought it relevant for a blog posting:

Question: Is Pilates appropriate for someone with peripheral atrophy? Balancing is becoming more & more difficult so yoga is no longer an option. If appropriate, please tell me where I might find a certified teacher/instructor. Please advise.

Answer: I do not feel it’s appropriate for me to answer this with a specific yes, or no – because I’m out of my scope of practice to recommend Pilates for a specific person, with a specific medical issue. (Especially someone I’ve never seen or worked with!)

However, here are my personal thoughts on the subject:

There can be many different reasons for peripheral atrophy. It would be important to know the causes, what parts of the body are being affected, how long it’s been an issue, symptoms, challenges, goals, a personal medical and exercise history, AND get prior approval from your primary care physician and medical specialist who is treating you for this — before starting a Pilates program. Your physician should give you the green light that it’s ok for you to begin (or continue) an exercise program – Pilates training or other forms of exercise.

Based on my years of Pilates teaching experience, and having worked with several clients with moderate to severe health challenges related to degenerative nerve and muscle diseases, Pilates training didn’t help reverse the clock and make everything “normal” but I have watched my clients enjoy substantial benefits in regards to gaining and maintaining strength, flexibility, balance, and body awareness for an improved quality of life.

Because a training session with the Pilates equipment can get you off your feet, and into more supportive positions – the challenge of balance can be taken out of the equation while learning different ways to improve strength and body control. The goal, of a Pilates program (in my opinion) would be to help identify things in your daily life activities, movements, and posture that are becoming a challenge, and then develop a program with the Pilates exercises that will best help to maintain and improve your fitness.

Some of what I do with my special needs clients is Pilates. Some exercises have been creatively modified; other exercises I pull from my experience in dance and general fitness that I feel are applicable to continue gently encouraging the body to stay strong and healthy. This is my approach! It might be different with a different teacher.

If your Physician agrees that Pilates might be beneficial and recommends you give it a try, then you can start the search for a qualified Pilates teacher with the knowledge and background to work with you.

Not all Pilates teachers are created equal. With health challenges, it would be best to find a teacher with good experience, and it might be advisable to find someone with rehabilitation background or physical therapy experience (You want to find a Pilates teacher who is confident to work with special populations.)

Ask your potential Pilates trainer if they’ve worked with other clients with special needs or peripheral atrophy. If you’re lucky enough to be in an area of the country with an abundance of Pilates professional, I’d recommend visiting several studios, asking lots of questions, and possibly take lessons from a few different teachers to be sure you’ve found one that has a personality that clicks with yours and fits the bill for knowledge, expertise, ability to help encourage you, and can design a Pilates training program that allows you to work at your own pace.

Begin with private one-on-one Pilates training, and let the teacher you are working with help guide you into Pilates Mat or other equipment classes if and when it’s appropriate for you. (Private Pilates lessons may be your long-term best and safest option.) Chances are there will be lots of exercises and concepts that you will be able to take out of the studio for “homework” as a supplement to your Pilates personal training routine.

To locate a Pilates Teacher near you:

  • See what’s listed in your local phone book under Pilates.
  • Inquire with your local health clubs.
  • Call sports medicine / physical therapy / or kinesiology / chiropractic clinics and ask where they refer their patients for Pilates Training.
  • Check with the Pilates Method Alliance. The PMA is an international membership organization for Pilates. You can search on their website to locate a PMA member Pilates Teacher/Studio at http://www.pilatesmethodalliance.org/curntmemb.html
  • PilatesStyle Magazine also has a good studio referral network at http://www.pilatesstyle.com/web/directory.aspx

It’s so important – that we maintain a good level of wellness! Finding an exercise program that you can do safely to maintain strength and flexibility will keep you as healthy as possible. It doesn’t have to be a wild and vigorous workout to get results. There is a difference between a professional athlete training for sports performance, and you or me enjoying exercise to maintain a good quality of life. Check with your doctor to be sure it’s ok for you to be active, and then find exercises you can do and enjoy that keep you moving at your own pace… and keep on moving!


If you’re looking for more general info on peripheral atrophy visit: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000593.htm

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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